Dry Mouth (Xerostomia)
Xerostomia or Dry Mouth
Problems related to dryness in the mouth are known as xerostomia (pronounced "zero-stoh'-me-ah", from the latin word for dry mouth).
This condition is associated with decreased and insufficient quantities of saliva ("spit"), particularly when eating. Some of those affected with the condition may also have lower quality saliva characterized abnormally high viscosity (saliva which is thick and sticky instead of thin and watery). Xerostomia is not a disease in itself, but rather a symptom seen in a variety of diseases affecting both the mouth and the rest of the body.
Xerostomia is a significant health problem because it can affect nutrition and psychological well-being, while also contributing to tooth decay and other mouth infections. Dry mouth also may signal more serious problems in the body. If you have a dry mouth, you should be seen first by a dentist to determine the cause of the symptom. Consultation with a physician may be recommended by your dentist.
What happens when you have dry mouth?
Dry mouth caused by malfunctioning salivary glands is associated with changes in saliva. The flow of saliva can decrease, or the composition of saliva can change.
Patients with dry mouth have varying degrees of discomfort. Some people feel a dry or burning sensation in their mouths. Their mouth can feel as dry as a desert. A dry mouth may affect their ability to chew, taste, swallow, and speak.
Changes in saliva also can affect oral and dental health. Cavities, tooth loss, and gum diseases are typically more aggressive in people with dry mouth. Dry mouth also promotes or worsens bad breath (halitosis). Oral yeast infections (candida albicans) may be an associated problem for those afflicted with dry mouth.
Severe cases of dry mouth can result in cracking of the lips, slits at the corners of the mouth, changes in the surface of the tongue, rampant tooth decay, ulceration of the mouth's linings, and infection.
Most cases of xerostomia are caused by failure of the salivary glands to function properly. But in some people, the sensation of a dry mouth occurs even though their salivary glands and output of saliva are normal. Dry mouth is a common side effect of many medications as well as some medical treatments.
Why is saliva important?
Saliva has many important functions in the body. It contains antibodies and special proteins which kill germs, start the process of food digestion, lubricate food for easier swallowing, and lubricate the mouth for proper speech, health and comfort.
Everyone needs adequate amounts of healthy saliva to:
What causes dry mouth?
Dry mouth can be due to changes in salivary gland function, brought on by:
Dry mouth can be due to changes not related to salivary glands, such as:
Nerve damage: Trauma to the head and neck area from surgery or wounds can damage the nerves that supply sensation to the mouth. While the salivary glands may be left intact, they cannot function normally without the nerves that signal them to produce saliva.
Does aging cause dry mouth?
Relief for Dry Mouth
Yes, there is hope! The first step is to consult a dentist with expertise in this area for a comprehensive oral examination. There are both in office treatments and prescription medications that offer partial or even total relief.
Although there is no single way to treat dry mouth, there are a number of steps you can follow to keep teeth in good health and relieve the sense of dryness. These suggestions will not correct the underlying cause of xerostomia, but may help you feel more comfortable.
As many as two million Americans may suffer from Sjögren's syndrome. The syndrome is commonly misdiagnosed or enitrely undiagnosed. Most afflicted patients don't get the correct diagnosis for 6 to 9 years after symptoms start.
Two prescription medications, Salagen (pilocarpine hydrochloride) and Evoxac (cevimeline), are available to treat the dry mouth associated with Sjögren's Syndrome. These medications work by stimulating salivary gland nerve receptors (the M3 muscarinic receptors). Depending on the nature and severity of symptoms, other medications include non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), steroids, and immunosuppressive drugs.
Two voluntary organizations have chapters in major cities around the country that offer support for these patients. For further information, contact:
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