Dry Mouth ("Xerostomia")

The dental term "xerostomia" means dryness of the mouth due to a decreased function of the glands that produce saliva.


Some Causes of Dry Mouth

A permanent feeling of dry mouth or decreased saliva flow can be caused by:

  • biological aging - this is a contributing factor, but probably does not cause it
  • systemic diseases such as;
- rheumatoid conditions (example: Sjogren's Syndrome)
- dysfunctional immune system (example: AIDS)
- hormonal disorders (example: Diabetes)
- neurologic disorders (example: Parkinson's disease)
  • decreased chewing ability- resulting in a liquid diet and soft food choice which tend to decrease the flow of saliva
  • surgical removal of salivary glands

Dry mouth can occur due to:

  • radiation therapy - radiation can result in permanent damage to the salivary glands.
  • drugs or medications - over 400 drugs cause dry mouth as a side effect. The more common drugs are:
- decongestants
- diuretics
- antihypertensives
- antidepressants
- antihistamines

Signs and Symptoms

If you think you experience oral dryness, here are some common signs and symptoms.

  • burning sensation of the tongue
  • difficulty eating, especially dry foods
  • difficulty with speech
  • often thirsty
  • difficulty wearing dentures
  • dry, cracked lips, and at the corners of the mouth
  • impaired taste

So What If I Have a Dry Mouth?

  • Having a decreased flow of saliva has some serious consequences.
  • Heavy plaque and food accumulations tend to occur with dry mouth (xerostomia). This can lead to tooth decay and gum disease. Saliva is the body's self-cleansing mechanism. It helps remove food, debris, and plaque from the tooth surfaces, which helps protect against oral diseases.
  • Saliva also protects against cavities. It cleanses the tooth surfaces and neutralizes acids, and in this way, protects the tooth surface from tooth decay. People who have dry mouth (xerostomia) are very susceptible to cavities, especially on the roots of their teeth.

How to Control Dry Mouth

  • frequently sip water
  • keep fluids at bedside at night
  • chew sugarless gum
  • avoid tobacco, alcohol and foods high in sugar
  • adjust the air humidity in your home
  • use a saliva substitute - this is a commercial product which attempts to "wet" the mouth like saliva does; it can be found in most pharmacies
  • establish a good plaque control program - since heavy plaque accumulations occur with oral dryness
  • use fluoride - toothpaste, rinse, or gel
Dry mouth can result in oral discomfort and can have serious consequences. If you feel you have this symptom, please see your oral health professional.  

This site is intended as general information only and should not
replace regular consultation with Dr.Talcott or the
Dental Hygienist. Copyright 2003 Dr Bob Talcott, DDS

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