The Woodlands and Houston, TX

Oral dryness, medically referred to as Xerostomia, is a condition in which the salivary glands don’t produce enough saliva. Fortunately, people rarely struggle with the condition in its most severe form, and the symptoms generally last for short periods of time. Saliva is an essential fluid that helps to protect and preserve the oral cavity and plays a significant role in maintaining oral health and comfort. Most people seldom fully appreciate the importance of it until there’s not enough. Saliva is necessary for many things, including: keeping the mouth moist, making swallowing food easier, protecting and lubricating oral  tissues, controling microbial populations in the mouth which helps minimize plaque growth, gingivitis, and tooth decay, providing initial digestive enzymes, and also promotes soft tissue repair and oral cleansing. Cleary, not having enough saliva can lead to numerous clinical problems affecting a person’s oral and overall health, comfort, and quality of life. So understandably, detecting the early signs of dry mouth is critical. It also prevents infection by helping to inhibit bacterial growth within the oral cavity. When we don’t have enough saliva, our mouth quickly gets uncomfortably dry and bacteria and microbes multiply faster, causing other unpleasant symptoms, such as bad breath. Fortunately, there are now effective treatments for dry mouth. “Saliva plays an important role in maintaining oral health,” says Dr. Donald Clem, president of the American Academy of Periodontology. “With decreased saliva flow, we can see an increase in plaque accumulation and the incidence and severity of periodontal diseases.”

Common symptoms of dry mouth include:  A sticky, dry feeling in the mouth; frequent thirst;  sores in the mouth; sores or split skin at the corners of the mouth; cracked lips; a dry feeling in the throat, a burning or tingling sensation in the mouth and especially on the tongue; a dry, red, raw tongue; problems speaking or difficulty tasting, chewing, and swallowing; hoarseness; dry nasal passages; sore throat; and bad breath. Another common complaint heard from people with oral dryness includes difficulty swallowing, particularly dry food without liquids. Your dentist and hygienist are trained to detect the signs of dry mouth and can often identify it well before you even become aware of its existence. A common sign of dry mouth is insufficient pooling of saliva under and around the tongue, something that will be readily noted by a dentist or hygienist. Other symptoms of oral dryness include cavities that affect the neck of teeth near the gumline, chewing the edges of teeth, or a parched red or fissured tongue. Additionally, people with dentures often find them difficult to wear when they are suffering from dry mouth.

One of the main causes of xerostomia is dehydration. If we don’t drink enough fluids, our mouth will be dry. This is why it is extremely important to stay properly hydrated and try to drink at least 2 liters of fluid per day. Dehydration can often times be triggered by other underlying health complications, such as frequent vomiting, diarrhea, or excessive sweating.

Another important cause of oral dryness includes lifestyle factors such as regularly smoking and using chewing tobacco. Cigarettes contain ingredients that actually hinder saliva production; therefore, people who choose to smoke consequently suffer from frequent xerostomia. Continuously breathing with your mouth open (mouth breathing) can also contribute to the problem.

People who are undergoing certain medical treatments such as chemotherapy or radiation, can also experience short term or chronic oral dryness. It has been proven that these invasive medical procedures can actually cause permanent damage and destruction to salivary glands. The common side effect of chemotherapy, frequent vomiting, further contributes towards oral dryness similar to dehydration. Additionally, people who suffer  injuries or undergo surgery to the head and neck area can also suffer from xerostomia as a side effect of collateral damage to the nerves that innervate the salivary glands. Oral dryness is also a common side effect of many medications, including both prescription and nonprescription drugs. These range from drugs used to treat depression, anxiety, pain, allergies, colds, obesity, acne, epilepsy, hypertension, diarrhea, nausea, psychotic disorders, urinary incontinence, asthma, and Parkinson’s disease. Dry mouth can also be a side effect of muscle relaxants and sedatives. Oral dryness can also be a side effect of health conditions such as diabetes, mumps, hypertension, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease or Sjorgen’s syndrome.

If you think your dry mouth is caused by a certain medication that you are taking, talk to your doctor so that they may adjust the dose you are taking or switch you to a different drug that doesn’t cause you to have a dry mouth. In addition, an oral rinse to restore mouth moisture may be prescribed by your dentist. Other steps that you can be taking to improve saliva production include: sucking on sugar-free candy or chewing sugar-free gum; drinking plenty of water to help keep your mouth moist; protecting your teeth by brushing with a fluoride toothpaste, using a fluoride rinse, and visiting your dentist regularly; breathing through your nose, not your mouth, as much as possible; using a room vaporizer to add moisture to bedroom air; or even trying an over-the-counter artificial saliva substitute.

If you think that you may be suffering from oral dryness or are suffering from any of its associated signs and symptoms of dry mouth, please feel free to let us know when you come in for your next cleaning, or contact our office to schedule an appointment with Dr. Scott Young at Woodlands Premier Dentistry for an exam to answer any questions you may have about how to improve the care of your oral health. Scott Young D.D.S. and his team serve The Woodlands, Houston, Kingwood, Spring, and Conroe areas.