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Dry Mouth: An Important Health Indicator

Your mouth is a barometer of your overall health. One of the ways it is an indicator of well-being is through your level of saliva. Not enough saliva is a sign of a condition known as dry mouth.

Dry mouth affects about one in every four adults. It is more common in women, and its likelihood increases with age. By the age of 60, about forty percent of adults will suffer (or have suffered) from dry mouth at some point.

What are the Symptoms?

There are many symptoms of dry mouth, also known as Xerostomia. These 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 and sore throat
  • Bad breath

What Causes Dry Mouth?
There are several causes of dry mouth. One of the most common culprits is medication.

Dry mouth is a common side effect of many prescription and nonprescription drugs, including medication used to treat depression, pain, allergies, colds, obesity, acne, epilepsy, hypertension, diarrhea, psychotic disorders, urinary incontinence and asthma. Dry mouth can also be a side effect of muscle relaxants and sedatives.

Certain medical conditions are linked to dry mouth, including Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, anemia, cystic fibrosis, rheumatoid arthritis, hypertension and Parkinson’s disease.

Dry mouth also may be a side effect of certain medical treatments, such as radiation to the head and neck and chemotherapy treatments for cancer, which can reduce the amount of saliva produced. It also may be the result of nerve damage to the head and neck area from an injury or surgery.

Certain lifestyle factors, such as smoking or chewing tobacco, can affect saliva production and aggravate dry mouth.

Why Is This a Problem?
Besides causing the aggravating symptoms previously mentioned, dry mouth also increases a person’s risk of gingivitis (gum disease), tooth decay, and mouth infections such as thrush. Dry mouth can also make it difficult to wear dentures.This condition can cause difficulty in speech and eating. It also leads to a dramatic rise in the number of cavities, as the protective effect of saliva’s re-mineralizing the enamel is no longer present. This can make the mucosa and periodontal tissue of the mouth more vulnerable to infection.How Is Dry Mouth Treated?Fortunately, there are many effective treatments for dry mouth. If you think your dry mouth is caused by certain medication you are taking, talk to your doctor. He or she may adjust the dose you are taking or switch you to a different drug that doesn’t cause dry mouth.In addition, an oral rinse to restore mouth moisture may be prescribed. If that doesn’t help a medication that stimulates saliva production, called Salagen, may be prescribed.

Other steps you can take that may help improve saliva flow 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 the bedroom air
  • Using an over-the-counter artificial saliva substitute