A normal amount of saliva is an essential element of oral and digestive health. Saliva serves many important purposes, but you may not realize its impact on everyday functions. It helps promote oral hygiene and support strong oral tissue. It’s necessary for a handful of fundamental bodily processes. A lack of saliva may cause dry mouth syndrome, which can be uncomfortable and have serious oral health impacts.
Dry mouth symptoms may be preventable or reversible. If you’re experiencing dry mouth symptoms, it’s critical to seek medical attention. Left unchecked, dry mouth can lead to more severe issues that may impact your overall health. Read on to learn more about dry mouth — its symptoms, causes, side effects and possible remedies.
How Important Is Our Saliva?
Your saliva is vital for your oral health, serving many essential purposes in chewing, swallowing, speaking and digesting. It consists of 99% water and 1% proteins and electrolytes. Your salivary glands, at your autonomic immune system’s signal, release a small, steady stream of salivary flow. This flow can fluctuate with the day and the season, lowest during sleep and in the summer. Chewing prompts increased salivary flow, especially if you’re eating tart foods. A healthy amount of salivary flow:
- Lubricates oral tissues, allowing speech.
- Dilutes food and drink sugars and clears away food debris, reducing plaque buildup.
- Limits bacterial growth by degrading bacterial cell walls.
- Maintains a healthy pH by buffering acid production.
- Helps restore enamel and repair tissue.
- Facilitates chewing and swallowing, moistening food for passage through the esophagus.
- Breaks down enzymes during digestion.
- Provides calcium, phosphate and fluoride ions, which remineralize enamel.
A proper amount of saliva is important for many reasons. If the salivary flow is too low, it can cause oral health concerns. A shortage of saliva is often uncomfortable and may result in tooth decay or oral infections. Occasional dry mouth is common, but excessive dry mouth can cause long-term issues.
What Are the Symptoms of a Dry Mouth?
Dry mouth is often noticeably uncomfortable and may cause difficulty with everyday functions like eating and speaking. A dry mouth might come with several symptoms, including:
- Extreme thirst: With a dry feeling in the mouth, you’re likely to reach for water often. You may find yourself always thirsty, even as you drink water.
- Mouth sores: You might notice sores or split skin, especially at the mouth’s corners. Without saliva for moisturization and lubrication, sores and cracked skin are likely to occur.
- Mouth pain: Dry mouth often causes discomfort, which may include a painful burning sensation. Sores and cracked skin may also cause pain.
- Reddened tongue: If your tongue looks dry, raw or red, this can be a symptom of dry mouth. The tongue might also feel rough to the touch.
- Trouble speaking: Without adequate saliva to lubricate the mouth’s moving parts, speech can be challenging. Trouble speaking is a typical dry mouth side effect.
- Trouble chewing and swallowing: In addition to having trouble speaking, you’ll likely have difficulty chewing and swallowing. Saliva is essential for washing away food particles.
- Hoarseness: Dry mouth can also cause hoarseness, which you might notice as a breathy, raspy or strained voice.
- Bad breath: A common symptom of oral health issues, including dry mouth, is bad breath.
Causes of a Dry Mouth: What Is Dry Mouth a Sign Of?
Dry mouth has several possible causes. It can be a side effect of certain medications, treatments or lifestyle choices. If you notice symptoms of dry mouth, the reasons for them may be:
Drugs and Medications
For certain drugs and medications, dry mouth is a possible side effect, even if taken at recommended doses. If you’re wondering which drugs cause dry mouth, check your prescription’s listed side effects and consult with your doctor. Drugs that may cause dry mouth include:
- Antihistamines: Used to treat allergy symptoms, antihistamines can cause dry mouth, as well as drowsiness, dizziness, low blood pressure and other side effects.
- Decongestants: Decongestants help relieve cold, flu and allergy symptoms but may cause dry mouth. They can also increase blood pressure and quicken the heartbeat.
- Pain killers: Pain killers affect the autonomic immune system and can cause dry mouth, as well as confusion, irritability and other symptoms.
Other types of drugs may also cause dry mouth symptoms, including antidepressants and hypertension medications. If you notice dry mouth symptoms and you take any medications, check the possible side effects and consult with your health care provider. Always speak with a doctor before you stop taking medication.
Chewing or smoking tobacco increases the risk of dry mouth. Tobacco can reduce the salivary flow rate and increase the likelihood of oral health issues, including dry mouth. Nicotine can restrict both blood and saliva flow throughout the body, as well.
If your body lacks a sufficient amount of fluids, it may not be able to produce enough saliva. You might notice signs of dry mouth as a result of dehydration. Other symptoms of dehydration might include tiredness or confusion, dark-colored urine and rapid heartbeat. In severe cases, patients may faint. Dehydration often results from aerobic exercise, exposure to heat or inadequate water intake. If you think you may be dehydrated, drink water right away and seek medical care.
Damage or Removal of Salivary Glands
If your salivary glands are damaged or removed, your salivary flow rate may decrease. Glands are most often removed as a result of infection or a tumor. Damage might involve swelling or blockages, including calcium-rich stones, cysts or tumors.
Gum recession starts as a young adult, so you may have had gum recession all your life. If your mouth becomes very dry, those healthy roots may become decay prone. Cavities can form on several roots simultaneously after onset of a dry mouth. If you have a history of gum recession, then visit your dentist if you notice a dry mouth.
Surgery and Cancer Treatments
Dry mouth after surgery or cancer treatment is common. Radiation can damage the salivary glands, especially when treating head or neck cancers. Breathing tubes used while patients are under anesthesia can also result in dry mouth. Post-surgery medications like pain killers can contribute to dry mouth symptoms, as well.
Though dry mouth is not a natural part of aging, conditions associated with aging may cause dry mouth. For instance, older adults who take several medications may experience dry mouth as a side effect. Chronic illnesses more common among older adults, including cancers, may also result in dry mouth.
Side Effects of a Dry Mouth
Dry mouth may cause discomfort and trouble speaking or eating. Potential side effects can also be severe, which is why prompt treatment is so important. Regular dentist visits are always necessary, but even more so if you experience dry mouth symptoms. Over time, dry mouth can increase the risk of these oral health concerns:
Dry mouth may cause gingivitis, a common oral health issue. Gingivitis involves inflammation, swelling and redness of the gingiva, which is the part of the gum around the tooth base. It can lead to more serious gum disease and even tooth loss if left untreated. Without saliva to help prevent plaque buildup and remove bacteria, gingivitis is much more likely.
Remember that saliva helps protect the teeth from bacteria, acid and food particles. It also helps remineralize enamel. Without sufficient saliva, you might experience tooth decay. The bacteria in your mouth, unchecked by saliva, can then feed on your diet’s sugars and cause cavities. If you’re experiencing dry mouth, you might notice signs of tooth decay or enamel erosion. Signs of this issue might include bleeding, swollen or receding gums. You might also notice pus, loose teeth, changed bite or bad breath.
Bacteria buildup caused by dry mouth might leave you vulnerable to mouth infections, which can be painful and severe. Signs of a mouth infection include bad breath or a bitter taste in the mouth, pain and swelling, tooth sensitivity and fever. Infections that originate in the mouth can spread to other parts of the body, so it’s critical to seek treatment right away.
How Can You Remedy a Dry Mouth?
Several steps help alleviate dry mouth. Try to identify the cause of your dry mouth to determine the best remedies for you. If you’re taking medication, speak with your doctor about your dry mouth symptoms — they may change your prescription. Otherwise, try these ten tactics to reduce dry mouth:
1. Drink More Water
Staying hydrated can help you combat dry mouth. Be sure to drink at least 2 liters of water throughout the day, the equivalent of about eight glasses. Drink plenty of water as you exercise or sweat. When thirsty, reach for water instead of sugary drinks like juices or sodas. Even if your dry mouth is not caused by dehydration, drinking water will help wash away bacteria and lubricate your mouth, performing some of your saliva’s tasks.
2. Enjoy Sugar-Free Candies and Gum
Moving your mouth activates your salivary glands. You can chew on sugar-free gum or suck on sugar-free hard candy to promote saliva production. You could also use ice chips, which help lubricate the mouth as they melt.
3. Eat or Drink Tart Foods or Liquids
Tart foods and liquids will also help stimulate saliva flow. Try sugar-free sour candies, lemonade or dill pickles. Avoid high-sugar versions of these options, which may increase bacteria accumulation and cause cavities. If you have sensitive teeth, you might want to avoid tart and acidic foods in favor of other ways to remedy a dry mouth.
4. Avoid Coffee, Tea and Wine
Certain beverages can increase mouth dryness. Some drinks include groups of molecules called tannins, which can bind to proteins in your saliva and solidify on your tongue. Tannins can make your tongue feel dry and sandy. To avoid exacerbating dry mouth issues, opt for water instead of other drinks. Any beverage like wine, coffee or tea has tannins, even when decaffeinated.
5. Use a Humidifier
Breathing dry air can cause or worsen dry mouth symptoms. Humidifiers release moisture into the air, which can alleviate congestion and dry mouth. It’s most important to put a humidifier in your bedroom — remember, your salivary glands release less saliva as you sleep.
6. Breathe Through Your Nose
Breathing through your mouth can increase mouth dryness. If you breathe through your mouth, while awake or asleep, due to allergies or congestion problems, consult your health care professional for possible solutions. Using a humidifier and staying hydrated can lessen the congestion issues that may cause breathing through the mouth.
7. Avoid Tobacco
Since tobacco can reduce your salivary flow rate, it’s best to steer clear of tobacco products if you want to avoid dry mouth. Speak with a doctor to help you quit smoking or chewing tobacco. If you use tobacco products, be sure to tell your health care professional before starting any prescriptions or undergoing surgery.
8. Practice Good Oral Hygiene
Without enough saliva to help keep your mouth clean, oral hygiene is more important than ever. Always brush your teeth at least twice a day, floss at least once a day and use an alcohol-free mouthwash on occasion. Those steps will help clear away bacteria and reduce the odds of gingivitis, tooth decay or infection.
9. Boost Your Immune System
Another way to reduce the risk of infection is to boost your immune system’s health. Make sure your diet includes plenty of vitamins C and B. Choose healthy foods and minimize your sugar intake. You might want to ask your doctor about taking vitamin supplements to support your immune system. While this will not cure dry mouth, it will help reduce the risk of infections associated with it.
10. Try Non-Prescription Saliva Substitutes
Ask your doctor about using over-the-counter sprays, rinses or special fluoride toothpaste designed to serve as saliva substitutes. These products can provide momentary relief from dry mouth symptoms. You can carry them with you to help relieve your dry mouth symptoms while on the go.
Can a Dentist Treat Dry Mouth?
You may be wondering who to consult if you’re experiencing dry mouth symptoms. A dentist can recommend over-the-counter medications, fluoride toothpaste and oral rinses. These products may help reduce dry mouth side effects, encouraging saliva flow or acting as saliva substitutes.
Other health care professionals can diagnose and treat dry mouth. They may write you a prescription for dry mouth treatment drugs — medications used to treat dryness as a result of chemotherapy radiation or Sjögren’s syndrome require a prescription. Keep in mind, any medication would have its own set of possible side effects to consider. Your health care professional may also adjust your other prescriptions if medication is causing your dry mouth.
Schedule an Appointment With Dental Choice
If you’re experiencing dry mouth symptoms, seek professional care. Even if you can manage the discomfort, its long-term effects can have serious impacts. For more information about dry mouth causes, symptoms and treatments, contact Dental Choice today.
At Dental Choice, we strive to make patients our top priority and promote wellness through oral health. We aim to improve the dental health of all family members, from toddlers to older adults. We do our best to make our patients feel safe, informed and cared for. Request an appointment with us, and know we’ll work hard to meet your oral health needs.