Dry Mouth: Signs, Symptoms, Treatment, and Prevention

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According to American Dental Association estimates, the general population prevalence of dry mouth (xerostomia) isn’t precise since there’s limited data. But, according to the estimates, the prevalence rate is wide, and may range from 0.9 percent to 64.8 percent.

While having a dry mouth is not necessarily a risk factor with aging, if you take more medications as a result of being older, you could develop dry mouth as a result of certain medications. Know too, that there’s a nearly 100 percent prevalence rate of xerostomia for patients receiving radiation therapy for neck and head cancer or for Sjögren disease patients.

Early detection and treatment are critical to slow down the progression of this condition and manage your symptoms. But first, it helps to know the signs and symptoms of dry mouth.

Signs and Symptoms of Dry Mouth

You may notice certain symptoms or signs of xerostomia most or all of the time if your mouth isn’t making enough saliva. Symptoms may include:

  • Bad breath (halitosis)
  • Feeling stickiness or dryness in your mouth
  • Grooved or dry tongue
  • Hoarseness and sore or dry throat
  • Stringy and thick saliva
  • Difficulty speaking, chewing or swallowing
  • Issues wearing dentures
  • Sense of taste changes

Additionally, when you have a dry mouth, it could lead to your lipstick sticking to your teeth. If you notice any of these symptoms above, contact your general family doctor or dentist who will likely refer you to an ENT (ear, nose and throat) physician.

Causes of Xerostomia

Certain factors can cause dry mouth including:

  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Asthma inhalers
  • Aging
  • Certain medications
  • Smoking
  • Allergies

Not only can a dry mouth be a symptom of high blood sugar, but dry mouth may also cause it.

Treatment of Dry Mouth

The reason behind your dry mouth will likely determine what your treatment is. Your doctor may suggest products that make your mouth moist. These products can be either over-the-counter or prescription such as:

  • Artificial saliva
  • Mouth rinses
  • Mouth moisturizers

You’ll also find mouthwashes made specifically for helping with dry mouth, particularly rinses with xylitol since they protect your teeth against tooth decay.

If your dry mouth is severe, your dentist or physician may recommend the following:

  • Dentist: Recommend products that prevent cavities and protect your teeth. For example, your dentist may suggest and fit you for fluoride trays. You fill the trays with fluoride and then wear them at night over your teeth. Your dentist might suggest using a chlorhexidine rinse weekly to control cavities.
  • Doctor: Prescribe saliva-stimulating medication like Salagen (pilocarpine) or Evoxac (cevimeline). These help stimulate more production of saliva.

Prevention of Dry Mouth

While following your doctor’s or dentist’s advice, you may wish to try these tips below as well to manage your symptoms of dry mouth.

  1. Sip sugar-free beverages or water or suck on ice cubes to keep your mouth moist throughout the day. You may also help with chewing and swallowing by drinking water with your meals.
  2. Refrain from breathing through your mouth when possible. Instead, breathe through your nose. If you snore frequently at night, you may want to seek medical help since snoring causes you to breathe through your mouth.
  3. Chew or suck on sugar-free hard candy or gum that contains xylitol. This ingredient helps prevent cavities also. But, xylitol, in some individuals could cause diarrhea or gas if they consume large amounts.
  4. Soothe cracked or dry areas of your mouth by keeping your lips moisturized. You can use lip balm or petroleum jelly for this purpose.
  5. Use a room humidifier to keep the air moisturized during the night. This will help keep your mouth and throat moister.

Certain products may actually make your dry mouth worse and should be avoided such as:

  • Alcohol and caffeine. These irritate your mouth and cause dryness, including alcohol-based mouthwashes.
  • OTC decongestants and antihistamines. These may make your dry mouth worse.
  • All tobacco products. Regardless if you chew or smoke your tobacco, quit since they can also irritate and dry out your mouth.
  • Acidic or sugary food or candy. These increase your tooth decay risk.
  • Salty or spicy food. These may also cause irritation.

Use fluoride toothpaste to brush your teeth daily. Don’t forget to floss your teeth every day too. Toothpaste containing betaine, prescription fluoride toothpaste or tooth gel that neutralizes bacteria acid may all be helpful — ask your dentist about them. Ensure you make a dentist appointment twice a year to examine your teeth and remove plaque which can prevent tooth decay.

To manage your dry mouth effectively, early detection and diagnosis are essential to come up with a symptom-based, aggressive treatment plan to help ease the discomfort of your dry mouth and slow down the condition’s progression.

You have many effective methods at your disposal to manage your dry mouth symptoms. However, routine follow-up visits to your dentist and doctor will help. You may need to also see an ENT physician as well to help keep the problem under control. With early diagnosis and effective individualized care, individuals who are struggling with dry mouth can live comfortable, healthy and happy lives.


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