What Is Dry Mouth?
Dry mouth, or xerostomia, as it is known in medical literature, is a widespread condition where the salivary glands cannot produce enough saliva to keep the mouth cavity moist enough. The condition results in a variety of uncomfortable symptoms, which include:
- Bad breath
- A sore or hoarse throat ranging from mild to severe
- A dry or sticky feeling in your mouth
- Thick saliva
- Difficulty swallowing or speaking
- Dry or fissured tongue
- Dry or cracked lips
- Problems with wearing dentures.
As you know, saliva plays a very important role in preventing dental problems and maintaining oral health, since it has antibacterial properties and neutralizes harmful acids produced by bacteria that live in your mouth, which can cause tooth decay. Apart from that, saliva enhances the taste of food and helps digest food, which makes it crucial for healthy nutrition and digestion. As mentioned previously, a deficiency of saliva can thus produce oral, dental, and digestive issues.
Since the condition also often comes along with bad breath and a sore and uncomfortable throat, it is also known to impair the emotional and psychological well-being of patients and become the source of nervousness and irritability for many. Many conditions, certain medications, and other factors can cause dry mouth, with the following 8 points on the list being the major causes of the condition.
1. Breathing Through the Mouth
Sleeping with your mouth open is one of the major causes of dry mouth. During the night, you don't hydrate your body the way you do throughout the day while breathing more deeply than usual, which is guaranteed to dry out your mouth cavity and throat if you breathe through your mouth.
Certain sleep conditions, such as obstructive sleep apnea and snoring can cause dry mouth, with patients suffering from apnea being 10 times more likely to suffer from dry mouth than those who don't according to one study. Those suffering from congestion and any other condition that makes it more difficult for you to breathe through the nose can likewise cause dry mouth.
With age, all of our soft tissues tend to become less hydrated as they lose collagen, the lining of your mouth and throat included. At the same time, the salivary glands can start producing less saliva, and all this can make you more likely to experience dry mouth than people younger than you.
Statistical analyses show that around 30% of adults over the age of 65 and 40% of those past the age of 80 suffer from dry mouth. That being said, age is often not the only contributing factor to dry mouth, and other conditions, medications or habits together with a more advanced age usually cause the condition.
3. Sjögren’s syndrome
Sjögren’s syndrome is an autoimmune condition, the primary symptom of which is dry mouth. The immune system of patients suffering from the disorder attacks its tear glands and salivary glands, which, in turn, stop producing enough saliva and tears. As a result, the person will experience a sensation of dryness in their eyes and mouth, which often gets worse at night when the body naturally produces less of these bodily liquids.
Unfortunately, there is no known cure for the condition, and the doctor will typically prescribe medications that urge the glands to produce more saliva, as well as topical treatments to reduce the symptoms of the condition.
Patients suffering from diabetes can likewise experience dry mouth as a result of their condition. High sugar levels can make you more likely to experience dehydration, which can cause dry mouth. Apart from that, certain diabetes medications can cause the condition, so it's especially important for diabetic patients to stay hydrated at all costs.
5. Smoking and Alcohol
Harmful habits, such as smoking and drinking alcohol can be the reason why you're experiencing dry mouth as well. Smoking tobacco is especially dangerous, as it is capable of decreasing salivary flow. In a 2010 study, 39% of smokers were found to experience dry mouth compared to only 12% of nonsmokers.
Dehydrating drinks, such as alcohol, coffee, and even mouthwash that contains alcohol can likewise contribute to dry mouth at night, especially if you use them in the evening.
Allergies, seasonal or not, can contribute to dry mouth as well because they often cause a blocked nose, which makes you breathe through the nose. Apart from that, inflamed soft tissues in the nasal and oral cavity common in allergy sufferers themselves often feel drier and sore, in which case a dry mouth will be a symptom of the underlying allergy.
Treating the allergy with antihistamines will relieve the symptom in the long term, but keep in mind that certain allergy medications can cause short term dry mouth as well, so combining them with proper hydration is key.
7. Alzheimer's Disease
While Alzheimer's disease itself doesn't directly cause dry mouth, the condition makes it more difficult for patients to maintain proper hydration, as it becomes more difficult to get a drink yourself or communicate to someone that you're thirsty. Dry mouth is by far not the worst symptom associated with dehydration, patients can also feel dizzy or may even require hospitalization if they become severely dehydrated.
8. Certain Medications and Treatments
A number of medications, as well as some cancer treatments, can cause dry mouth as a side effect. Both chemotherapy and treatments of neck and head cancer can contribute to dry mouth, for example. Some of the most common medications associated with dry mouth include:
- blood pressure medication
- drugs used to treat sinus issues
- certain medications used to treat Parkinson's disease
- drugs used to help sleeping issues.
Most of these medications are life-saving and will have to be continued by the patient even if dry mouth persists, but it's still possible to treat the dry mouth symptomatically, which is exactly what we will discuss in the following section.
Home Treatments of Dry Mouth
Few things are as unpleasant as waking up with a dry mouth in the middle of the night, desperately reaching for a glass of water. To make sure that dry mouth no longer wakes you up in the middle of the night, you can incorporate these tips into your life:
1. Avoid alcohol and coffee at night, and stop smoking if you do.
2. Use an air humidifier in your bedroom throughout the night. If you don't have one, you can simply put a bowl of water or a wet towel near a heat source in your room.
3. Suck on ice cubes, chew sugar-free gum, or eat sugar-free candy or lozenges during the day, as all of these promote the production of saliva.
4. Hydration, hydration, and hydration: incorporate water even with your meals and sip on cool water all day.
5. Maintain good oral hygiene by brushing your teeth twice a day and flossing on a daily basis to prevent dental complications.
6. Use hydrating nasal and oral sprays to prevent dehydration of the soft tissues.
Best of all, you can use these tips irrespective of the cause of dry mouth. Also, you can and should combine any of these tips to make sure your oral cavity is hydrated and supplied with as much saliva as it needs, and thus happy and health.