Xerostomia: An irritating dry mouth syndrome

Saliva is required to maintain our mouths moist, clean, and digest food. It also protects the mouth from illness by regulating bacteria and fungus. When your mouth doesn’t produce enough saliva, you get a dry mouth known as xerostomia. Xerostomia is frequently caused by a side effect of certain drugs, ageing, or cancer radiation therapy.

Dry mouth syndrome can happen for many reasons, including:

  • Side-effects of many medicines, including those you buy over the counter
  • Getting older
  • Chemotherapy for cancer
  • Nerve damage to the head or neck
  • Health conditions such as diabetes, stroke, yeast infection (thrush) in your mouth, or Alzheimer’s disease
  • Anxiety and stress
  • Snoring
  • Drinking a lot of alcohol or soft drinks
  • Chewing tobacco
  • Using drugs such as methamphetamines or marijuana

People with dry mouth syndrome may find it difficult to speak, chew, or swallow in severe cases. This can result in further health difficulties, such as malnutrition or problems with the teeth, mouth, or throat.

A dry mouth is usually a temporary and treatable condition. In most cases, you can prevent and relieve symptoms of dry mouth at home by doing one or more of the following:

  • Sipping water throughout the day
  • Sucking on ice cubes
  • Limiting alcohol and caffeine
  • Restrict salt and sugar intake
  • Avoiding tobacco or recreational drugs
  • Use a humidifier in your bedroom when you sleep
  • Taking over-the-counter saliva substitutes
  • Chewing sugarless gum or sucking on sugarless hard candy
  • Using over-the-counter toothpaste, rinses, and mints

Treatment for dry mouth is based upon several factors, including if the person has an underlying condition or disease and whether or not they are taking medications that may cause dry mouth. If an underlying reason is discovered, specific steps can be taken to reduce its impact. Consult your dentist to learn about your alternatives.

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