Dry Mouth is a very common condition that is caused by a decrease in the quantity of saliva flow in a person’s mouth. It affects 20%-25% of the adults. Further as a person ages the saliva flow decreases. It has been found that 20% of the youngsters of age 20 are affected by dry mouth whereas 30%-40% of the adults in the age group 60-80 complain of dry mouth.

Dry Mouth is a very common condition caused by a decrease in the quantity of saliva in a person’s mouth; this condition is medically known as Xerostomia. The term Xerostomia is the combination of two Greek words “xero” meaning dry and “stoma” meaning mouth. This is also called as sometimes cottonmouth, dough mouth or pasties colloquially.

The saliva is an important secretion that not only moistens your mouth but also plays an important part in various body functions like buffering, chewing, clotting, digestion, mastication, mineralization, singing, speech, swallowing and taste; it also helps protect your teeth, lips, mouth and esophagus. Reduction in the flow of saliva could have serious consequences.

The symptoms and signs of Dry Mouth as related to the oral function/ site are:

  • Bad breath or halitosis
  • Cheeks look pale, dull and dry
  • Mastication – difficulty in eating foods.
  • Mouth – dryness, fungal infection, sores or split skins, cracking lips
  • Mucosa – sensitive to hot, spicy, salty and acidic foods
  • Saliva – reduction in quantity; thick, ropy and foamy
  • Speaking difficulties
  • Swallowing – difficulty to swallow food; acid reflux disease
  • Taste – abnormal or no taste sensation
  • Teeth – rampant dental decay, gum disease, plaque and tooth decay
  • Throat – Sore
  • Tongue – dry, sore, tingling, fissured, lobulated, yeast infection
  • Medications – the dry mouth is mainly caused as a side-effect of the various medications which we take in our daily life; in particular drugs that are used to treat anxiety and depression, antihistamines, anti-diarrheals, decongestants, high BP medications, muscle relaxants, drugs used for urinary incontinence and medications for Parkinson’s disease are responsible for causing dry mouth.
  • Aging – elderly persons are likely to take more medicines which in turn could cause dry mouth; further the older people may have other systemic problems which could also cause dry mouth.
  • Chemotherapy – Anti cancer drugs cause reduction in saliva and also change the nature of saliva thereby causing dry mouth.
  • Chewing – reduction in chewing causes the muscles to shrivel thereby producing less quantity of saliva that causes dryness.
  • Damage to nerve – caused by an injury/ surgery to your neck/ head also might cause dry mouth.
  • Depression – this reduces the rate of your salivary flow.
  • Diseases – such as anxiety disorders and depression, diabetes, HIV/AIDS, Parkinson’s disease, Sjogren’s syndrome etc. could cause dry mouth.
  • Therapeutic Irradiation – this causes damage to salivary glands if applied to your head or neck and this reduces the saliva quantity.
  • Use of Tobacco – tobacco usage either in the form of smoking or chewing will result in dry mouth.

The following information is used by the doctor for finding the causes of dry mouth.

  • Case History and Clinical Examination with details of your symptoms and complaints
  • Salivary Tests that indicate the saliva flow and also your salivary glands condition.
  • Tests on your Eyes such as Schirmer Test, the Rose Bengal and Lissamine Green test
  • Special Blood Tests associated with dryness; these tests are ANA, SSA, SSB, RF, ESR and IG.

The following treatment options are available for curing dry mouth.

  • If dry mouth is caused by drugs your doctor might change your dosage or change to a different medication that does not cause dry mouth.
  • You must keep your mouth moist by following these measures.
  • Drink water or juices that are sugar-free; it is very important to drink while you eat and this will help in chewing and swallowing.
  • Stimulate your saliva flow either by eating foods that require mastication or chewing sugarless gum.
  • Use of drugs such as Pilocarpine and Cevimeline stimulates production of saliva.
  • Apply fluoride gel or rinse with fluoride rinse before going to bed
  • Avoid using alcohol based mouthwash since it dries your mouth
  • Breathe only through your nose.
  • Chew gum that is sugar free
  • Do not eat acidic/ sugary foods because they cause tooth decay
  • Do not take OTC antihistamines and decongestants since they might worsen your symptoms
  • Drink plenty of water regularly
  • Reduce your intake of caffeine; caffeine dries your mouth
  • Stop smoking or chewing tobacco
  • Use fluoride toothpaste for brushing
  • Use OTC saliva substitutes