Dry mouth refers to an uncomfortable, sticky feeling in the mouth. It can make tasks like chewing, tasting, swallowing and talking difficult. Dry mouth (clinically known as xerostomia) is also associated with cracked lips and mouth sores. According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR), chronic dry mouth can lead to an increased risk for dental decay and mouth infections.
Why do you get dry mouth?
A number of factors can cause salivary glands to function improperly. In some cases, certain drugs or medical treatments may bring on dry mouth. The NIDCR reports that over 400 medications are known to impact the production of saliva. In addition, medical conditions like HIV and Alzheimer’s disease may also affect the body’s ability to make saliva. Saliva production is important because it prevents tooth decay. According to Mayo Clinic, saliva neutralizes acids from bacteria, limits bacterial growth in the mouth and washes away food particles. Chemotherapy, radiation or sustaining nerve damage can all contribute to dry mouth.
There are a number of things people can do to keep the condition at bay. According to the NIDCR, dentists suggest making specific lifestyle changes. This includes staying hydrated with water or sugarless drinks, avoiding caffeine, staying away from tobacco and alcohol, sleeping with a humidifier, chewing sugarless gum, and abstaining from salty or spicy foods. Dry mouth may also be improved with daily brushing and flossing. It’s also important to keep up with dental checkups. To diagnose dry mouth, dentists typically perform an oral exam and take the patient’s medical history into account. In some cases, imaging scans of the salivary glands or tests to measure saliva production may be necessary, according to Mayo Clinic. Xerostomia isn’t always chronic. For instance, being under stress or feeling nervous or anxious can cause temporary dry mouth. According to Harvard Medical School, a healthy adult should produce three pints of saliva a day.