Chronic dry mouth – which can also be accompanied by a thick, pasty feeling in the mouth – is a medical condition known as xerostomia, according to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. Chronic dry mouth can be a serious condition, as it may affect your dental health and your ability to eat food. Understanding the seriousness of dry mouth and how to treat it can help you keep your teeth healthy and restore your quality of life.
Xerostomia is caused when glands in your mouth stop producing saliva. There are a number of different reasons why this would happen, including certain medications you may be on, including over-the-counter medications. Antihistamines, medicine for high blood pressure, anti-diarrheals and decongestants are among the most likely medicinal culprits of xerostomia, according to MayoClinic.com. If you’re receiving cancer therapy, chemotherapy could play a part in chronic dry mouth. Nerve damage could also be the cause.
A chronic dryness in the mouth is the classic symptom of xerostomia, because the saliva glands don’t produce any moisture, and the mouth gets dried out from being open and your breathing. Other symptoms include dry, cracked lips, bad breath and frequent sore throats. Some people also experience fungal infections in the mouth and difficulty speaking or swallowing because of the lack of saliva.
Xerostomia is more than just a nuisance and can have serious health effects over the long term. Saliva plays a large role in your dental health, sweeping away harmful bacteria that leads to tooth decay. When that saliva is absent, bacteria can gather on the teeth, breaking them down and leading to plaque and gum disease as well. Lack of saliva can also lead to an infection in the mouth from fungal growth.
Your doctor will likely ask you a series of questions about your dental history and what medications you are on to help determine the exact cause of the xerostomia to properly treat it. He may order blood tests or an imaging scan to look at your salivary glands for signs of nerve damage.
Because certain medications are the usual cause of xerostomia, your doctor may have you switch medications and see if that helps your condition. Certain prescription drugs such as pilocarpine and cevimeline also help stimulate saliva production in the mouth. There are also steps you can take on your own to help stimulate saliva production and flush bacteria out of your mouth if you experience xerostomia. Chew sugar-free gum, especially after meals, to rid your mouth of excess food and bacteria. Use fluoride toothpaste and a fluoride rinse several times a day to help get rid of bacteria and strengthen your teeth. Breathe through your nose as much as possible and consider installing a humidifier in your bedroom to aid in keeping your mouth from drying out while you sleep.