Xerostomia — an unusual word for a common problem. It’s the scientific name used to describe that “morning feeling” of dry lips, a tongue that feels like sandpaper and a mouth as parched as the Sahara. It’s Dry Mouth Syndrome, a condition that affects at least 10 percent of the population regularly, and as many as one quarter of senior citizens. It’s not a disease, but it can be a precursor of a disease, or associated with other medical conditions.
Dry mouth may also stem from drug use, both the legal and illegal varieties, be the result of an infection or immune system disorder, or even result from ongoing treatment for cancer. Dry mouth results when the salivary glands aren’t working quite right.
Effects, in addition to the short-term discomfort of feeling that your tongue is glued to the roof of your mouth, include mouth ulcers, bad breath, higher susceptibility to oral thrush infections, a higher rate of decay, and problems with receding gums and denture fit.
What to Do About Dry Mouth
You know when your mouth is dry. And you would normally simply drink some water to alleviate the feeling. Occasional dryness is not necessarily a cause for concern, but if you regularly awaken with dry mouth, you should not only talk to your dentist, but also see your physician. Simply adopting the habit of drinking a glass of water on rising will not alleviate symptoms, nor will it solve the underlying problem. Persistent dry mouth is a symptom of another medical condition or physical “upset,” and it should be taken seriously. One of the side effects is the increased incidence of tooth decay along the gumline, particularly in lower teeth, which are normally well protected.
Specific causes of dry mouth can be sleep apnea, medical conditions such as Skojgen’s syndrome, diabetes, cerebral palsy, Parkinson’s, lupus and AIDS. Chemotherapy to combat certain cancers often affects the production of saliva, and radiation treatments for cancer of the head and neck are known to cause irreversible damage to the Parotid, the Sublingual and the Submandibular salivary glands. Tumors, both benign and malignant, may develop in the glands themselves, most commonly in the Parotid pair, located just in front of each ear. Seek medical attention if you feel a slight lump, have trouble swallowing or opening your mouth, or notice drainage from the ear. Be sure to talk to your doctors about the temporary and lasting effects of dry mouth. If you are facing radiation treatment in the head and neck area, it is important to talk to your doctor and dentist about the possible affects to your salivary glands.
Severe dehydration can result in dry mouth, as can habitual mouth breathing related to allergies, a stuffy nose or infection, including mumps. Facial nerve problems, hormonal changes, overuse of antihistamines, sedatives or decongestants, and even some blood pressure medications can interfere with saliva production.
Some individuals with dry mouth also experience dry, itchy eyes, and nose and throat dryness that may or may not include reduced sense of smell and persistent cough. If you experience any or many of these symptoms in conjunction with persistent dry mouth, you will want to have a thorough medical evaluation.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Dentists routinely ask about dry mouth symptoms , and a simple saliva test is not difficult or invasive. In fact, your dental professional probably routinely checks on your saliva production during a routine exam. It involves little more than patting a section of lower lip dry and then timing the reappearance of moisture. If the saliva glands are performing properly, the moisturization will take no more than half a minute. While checking for decay and looking at the pattern of any cavities, your dentist also checks the condition of your tongue and inner cheeks. It is always important that you discuss any health concerns you may have, and be sure to tell your dentist about new medical diagnoses and medications that you regularly take.
If your dry mouth can be attributed to another underlying condition, or if it has developed in tandem with beginning a new treatment regimen, your physician may be able to alter medication dosage or prescribe a different drug. If you are undergoing treatment for cancer, interim measures may help the dry mouth. There are effective saliva substitutes, as well as a variety of treatment options, including topical gels, lubricants, toothpastes and mouthwashes that are used to stimulate saliva glands.
In cases of infection, your doctor or dentist may prescribe antibiotics. Finally, surgery to correct salivary gland blockage may be needed.
The Importance of Coordinated Treatment
Because medical and dental communities are increasingly aware that oral health and total well-being are intertwined, it is vital that you also take an integrated approach to your health. As you are well aware, a healthy mouth and a bright smile make you feel better in a general way. We at Briglia Dental Group are committed to helping all our patients achieve those bright smiles by maintaining and improving oral health in every possible way. If you suspect that your occasional dry mouth may indicate a larger problem, just contact us to schedule a consultation.