Dry mouth, also known by its medical name, “xerostomia” is a condition characterized by either a lack of saliva or a decrease in its flow. Since saliva plays an important role in aiding digestion and maintaining good dental health, the consequences of xerostomia can be significant.
Three pairs of major salivary glands along with hundreds of minor salivary glands inside your mouth produce approximately 2-4 pints of saliva every 24 hours. Composed of 99% water and 1% electrolytes, enzymes and proteins; saliva washes over the teeth and surrounding soft tissues to cleanse and protect them from germs, tooth decay, and gum disease. Saliva also plays a key role in keeping the mouth lubricated and comfortable, so that food can be moved through the mouth easily for purposes of chewing, tasting and swallowing.
A lack of saliva makes simple oral functions more difficult and causes germs to increase in your mouth. More germs lead to bad breath, dental decay, gum disease, and provide the groundwork for a host of oral infections.
Common reasons for the condition include the following:
- Age - Dry mouth is frequently seen in the elderly
- Cancer treatment
- Injury or Surgery
- Tobacco use
What is the treatment for dry mouth?
Treatment of dry mouth depends on the underlying cause of the problem. If it develops as a side effect of a particular drug, the physician may be able to prescribe an alternative medication. In some cases dry mouth may respond to drugs that promote an increased salivary flow. If not, artificial saliva can be used to keep the mouth moist and lubricated. As added protection, the dentist may recommend a prescription strength fluoride gel to help prevent tooth decay from developing. Patients can help alleviate some of the effects of dry mouth, by drinking water more often and avoiding drinks with caffeine or alcohol. They can also help to stimulate the flow of saliva by chewing sugarless gum or sucking on a sugarless candy. With dry mouth, it is essential to see the dentist on a regular basis for care.