Mouth Feel Like a Desert?
Causes of Dry Mouth & How to Treat It
Lacy Walker, RDH, BS, CDA, MAADH, COSE, FAAOSH
A dry mouth, also known as xerostomia, is a common condition in which the mouth does not produce enough saliva. Various factors, including dehydration,
certain medications, medical conditions, or radiation treatments, can cause someone to experience a dry mouth.
Saliva is essential because it helps lubricate the mouth, contains an enzyme such as amylase, also called ptyalin, that helps break down the food we ingest into simpler sugars such as maltose and dextrin, assists in the repair and remineralization of early tooth decay, and helps neutralize buffered acids to return pH level to a normal value. (1,2)
Dry Mouth Symptoms
Symptoms of dry mouth include feeling thirsty all the time, difficulty speaking and swallowing, and an overall dry feeling in the mouth. Sometimes the tongue will stick to the palate or roof of the mouth, and food may not be adequately digested or removed from the oral cavity. Experiencing a dry mouth can make it difficult to break down food and may lead to an impaired ability to remineralize the teeth.
A variety of conditions can cause dry mouth.
Dehydration is a condition that occurs when your body doesn't have enough fluid to function properly. It can happen quickly, especially in hot weather or when engaging in strenuous physical activity. Symptoms of dehydration can include thirst, headaches, dizziness, fatigue, and dry mouth. Drinking water regularly can prevent excessive dehydration and changes in electrolyte balance and maintain salivary secretion function. (3)
Medications may have a side effect of dry mouth. Examples of drug classes that induce dry mouth include antidepressants, antipsychotics, anticholinergics, antihypertensives, antihistamines, and sedatives. (4)
Sjögren's syndrome is an autoimmune disease characterized by the inflammation of the exocrine glands, mainly of the lacrimal and salivary glands. (5) Oral manifestations of Sjögren's syndrome are mainly xerostomia and hyposalivation. (5)
Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) - People with OSA may experience dry mouth, and increased levels of dental plaque can lead to an increased risk of cavities, gum disease, and bad breath. The flow of saliva diminishes considerably during sleep and allows populations of bacteria to build up in the mouth. (2)
Chemotherapy treatments can cause dry mouth and alter the pH balance of the oral cavity. One of the most frequent complications of conventional radiotherapy is xerostomia, and it is assumed that the radiation exposure harms the blood vessels or nerves supplying these glands and not the salivary glands themselves. (5)
Treatment Options for Dry Mouth
Treatment options for dry mouth depend on the underlying cause. If it is caused by a medication, your doctor may be able to switch you to another one that does not cause this side effect. If it is caused by a medical condition, such as an autoimmune disorder such as Sjogren's or diabetes, treatment of the underlying condition may help alleviate the symptoms of dry mouth. Other treatments include drinking plenty of fluids, chewing sugar-free gum to stimulate saliva production, and using an over-the-counter saliva substitute to keep the mouth moist. In severe cases, a doctor may prescribe medications to increase saliva production.
1. ptyalin. Oxford Reference. Retrieved 2 Feb. 2023, from https://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/oi/authority.20110803100353216.
2. Tiwari, M. (2011). Science behind human saliva. Journal of Natural Science, Biology, and Medicine, 2(1), 53-58. https://doi.org/10.4103/0976-9668.82322
3. Tan ECK, Lexomboon D, Sandborgh-Englund G, Haasum Y, Johnell K. Medications That Cause Dry Mouth As an Adverse Effect in Older People: A Systematic Review and Metaanalysis. J Am Geriatr Soc. 2018;66(1):76-84. doi:10.1111/jgs.15151
4. Kapourani A, Kontogiannopoulos KN, Manioudaki A-E, Poulopoulos AK, Tsalikis L, Assimopoulou AN, Barmpalexis P. A Review on Xerostomia and Its Various Management Strategies: The Role of Advanced Polymeric Materials in the Treatment Approaches. Polymers. 2022; 14(5):850. https://doi.org/10.3390/polym14050850
5. Tanabe, M., Takahashi, T., Shimoyama, K., Toyoshima, Y., & Ueno, T. (2013). Effects of rehydration and food consumption on salivary flow, pH and buffering capacity in young adult volunteers during ergometer exercise. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 10, 49. https://doi.org/10.1186/1550-2783-10-49