Dry mouth – also called xerostomia – is not a disease, but a symptom of a medical disorder or a side effect of certain medications, such as antihistamines, decongestants, pain killers, diuretics and many others. Dry mouth results from an inadequate flow of saliva, which is your mouth’s primary defence against tooth decay, therefore xerostomia increases your risk of developing tooth decay.
Saliva plays a very important part of maintaining your oral health. In addition to being your mouth’s first defence against tooth decay, saliva also:
• Washes away food and debris from your teeth and gums • Moistens and breaks down food to ease swallowing and enhances your ability to taste • Provides disease-fighting substances throughout your mouth to help prevent cavities and other infections • Keeps the surface of your teeth strong by providing high levels of calcium, fluoride and phosphate ions at the tooth surface.
The severity of dry mouth symptoms ranges from mild oral discomfort to significant oral disease that can compromise the patient’s health, dietary intake, and quality of life.
a sticky, dry, or burning feeling in the mouth
trouble chewing, swallowing, tasting, or speaking
altered taste or intolerance for spicy, salty, or sour foods or drinks
a dry or sore throat
cracked, peeling, or atrophic lips
a dry, rough tongue
an infection in the mouth
halitosis (bad breath)
inability to retain dentures or otherwise poorly fitting removable prostheses
In some cases, dry mouth can be an indicator of a chronic autoimmune disorder: Dry mouth is one of the symptoms of Sjögren’s (pronounced SHOW-grins) syndrome, a chronic autoimmune disorder in which the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks its own moisture-producing glands, the tear-secreting and salivary glands, as well as other organs.
The goals of treating xerostomia include identifying the possible cause(s), relieving discomfort, and preventing complications (e.g., dental caries and periodontal infections). If you suffer from dry mouth, your dentist can recommend various methods to restore moisture. Sugar-free candy or gum stimulates saliva flow, and moisture can be replaced by using artificial saliva and oral rinses.