Most of us have experienced a dry mouth at some point in our lives – after a long workout, before a nerve-wracking job interview, or while trekking through the desert after severely underestimating how much water you should have brought, to name a few. But while these are normal physiological responses to temporary situations, there are some people who suffer from a chronically dry mouth, known in the medical world as xerostomia.
Saliva plays an important role in the mouth and not just for comfort. A healthy production of saliva contributes to cleansing the mouth, digestion of food, speech, chewing and swallowing, and keeps bacteria and fungi at bay. Chronic xerostomia as a result of hyposalivation (an inadequate production of saliva) can have a significant impact on the quality of life for many people, particularly the elderly, who are more likely to experience a dry mouth. Women are also more likely than men to suffer from xerostomia.
Apart from the obvious (that is, the mouth feeling dry), the symptoms of a dry mouth can include:
- Sore throat
- Constant thirst
- Hoarse voice
- Dry eyes, nasal passages, and/or skin
- Cracked, dry lips
- Burning sensation in the mouth
- Difficulties in chewing and swallowing food, or needing to sip fluids in order to eat dry foods comfortably
- Changes to taste sensation
- Bad breath, also known as halitosis
People who suffer from xerostomia may also find themselves more prone to dental problems, such as tooth decay and gingivitis (gum disease).
What Causes a Dry Mouth?
In itself, a dry mouth is not a disease and may be due to something as simple as cigarette smoking or constant breathing through the mouth, but can also often be a result of other more serious underlying conditions or other external factors.
Several systemic diseases are known to present with xerostomia as a symptom. A significant one is an autoimmune disease called Sjögren’s syndrome, which is basically characterized by dryness – dry eyes, a dry mouth, and even a dry cervix in women. Other conditions associated with xerostomia include hypertension, asthma, diabetes, hypothyroidism, rheumatic diseases, and eating disorders.
Certain medications can contribute to low saliva production and a dry mouth, too, known as xerogenic medications. These can be either over-the-counter or prescription medications, such as anti-psychotics and anti-depressants (particularly those from the category of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors), oral diabetes medications, diuretics used to treat hypertension, and antihistamines or decongestants commonly used for allergies and colds.
There are also medical procedures, such as radiation therapy to the head and neck area, or chemotherapy, that can induce hyposalivation and xerostomia, primarily through damage to the salivary glands as an unavoidable side effect.
Top 5 Home Remedies for Dry Mouth
Identifying any underlying contributing factors to your dry mouth problems will play an important role in guiding an effective management plan. For example, maybe take a bigger bottle of water with you next time you hike through the desert.
If you suspect any of your medications may be causing your mouth to dry out, speaking with your ENT doctor can help to find another suitable alternative that is less likely to cause hyposalivation.
There are also several easy home remedies to consider that can help to alleviate a dry mouth.
- Drink more water or suck on ice cubes
- Avoid or reduce intake of drying substances, including caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco
- Breathe through your nose instead of mouth – see your ENT doctor if you suffer difficulties with nose breathing as this can be a symptom of another issue such as a deviated septum or nasal polyps
- Use a humidifier in the room, particularly at night during sleep
- Consider products that are designed for a dry mouth, such as sugar-free chewing gums, mouth sprays, or mouthwashes that can help to substitute saliva or stimulate production – xylitol is often an effective
- ingredient in these products, but be aware that large amounts can cause a laxative effect in some people!
Xerostomia and hyposalivation can be severe enough to cause anxiety in some. If home remedies are insufficient at managing your dry mouth to a comfortable level, speak to your ENT doctor.