Is your mouth constantly dry and uncomfortable? Do you drink glasses and glasses of water in an attempt to hydrate your tongue, cheeks, and gums—but nothing seems to cure your ailments? Well, first things first: maybe you’re not thirsty! While dehydration is most obvious cause of dry mouth, there are other factors that commonly contribute—and they’re probably incorporated into your daily routine.
In its simplest regard, dry mouth is a result of inadequate saliva production. Saliva is produced to assist people in speaking, eating, and swallowing. Without enough saliva, any normal activities involving your mouth will continue to dehydrate your mouth. Throughout a day, you habitually and often unknowingly utilize your mouth, and in turn constantly deplete your saliva at practically all times. When your body isn’t producing saliva, the dryness builds up more and more, causing further symptoms detrimental to your oral health.
The most common symptoms associated with diagnosed dry mouth are frequent thirst, dry/sticky tongue, sores, dry lips, cracked corners of the mouth, dry or burning mouth and throat, rawness of the tongue, hoarse voice, and even bad breath.
So dry mouth and it’s correlated symptoms are caused by a reduction in saliva—but if drinking a lot of water isn’t helping you produce more saliva, what inhibits your body from this natural function?
Various pharmaceuticals are the largest cause. Recent studies have found that many drugs, over the counter or prescription, have mouth drying and saliva inhibiting side effects. The ADA and other health organizations are trying to bring awareness to consequences and risks of over 500 drugs and their contribution to dry mouth. Many people ingest dry-mouth-causing drugs on a daily basis (nearly half of Americans) because it’s a common side effect of pain relievers, anti-depressants, blood pressure medications, asthma and allergy relief, and diuretics.
This poses problem because the people who take these drugs are usually especially dependent on their medications. Prescriptions and other meds greatly assist the daily functions of millions of Americans. But at the same time, they cause other problems that may have bigger consequences than users realize.
And other than discomfort, dry mouth can contribute to actual oral health problems. When your mouth is dry, it’s more susceptible to getting sores, which can become quickly infected without protection from saliva. Also, saliva helps prevent teeth decay by cleaning and coating your teeth, so dry mouth often contributes to decaying, chipping, and overall unhealthy teeth.
If you’re not on any sort of daily medication and dry mouth persists, there are a few other causes. Smoking and chewing tobacco have huge health risks, dry mouth among them. Also, neck or back injuries can cause nerve damage that inhibits the body from sending saliva production messages to the brain. Any medical condition that resulted in the surgical removal of salivary glands would also cause dry mouth.
If you have dry mouth, here are some dos and don’ts to help you cope:
DO: Maintain a daily oral health routine. Brush your teeth and tongue with toothpaste that has fluoride. And as always, remember to floss.
DON’T: Eat spicy, sugary, or dry foods. They’ll only add to the dryness.
DO: Chew sugar free gum or suck on sugar free candies and lozenges. This can help stimulate saliva production.
DON’T: Smoke or drink excessive alcoholic or caffeinated beverages.
DO: Try out mouth guards with gel to produce artificial saliva.
Most of all, DO tell your doctor or dentist. They can help you figure out the cause of your dry mouth case, suggest treatment, and possibly change your daily prescription to something with less harmful or annoying side effects. At best, DON’T let your dry mouth persist.