What causes dry mouth? This has been bothering me for months now. Thanks and more power to your column! – Richard Reyes of Makati City.
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Saliva helps clean and moisten the mouth, and aids in digestion. We may find it dirty but this fluid actually prevents the spread of bacteria and fungi in the mouth. The absence or lack of saliva makes the mouth dry and this condition is known as xerostomia.
People with xerostomia or dry mouth know how uncomfortable it is. It leads to a sticky feeling in the mouth, frequent thirst, a red tongue, hoarseness, sore throat, and difficulty tasting, chewing and swallowing. In some, this can cause painful mouth sores and cracked lips.
Xerostomia can be caused by several factors. It can be the side effect of certain medicines. So it’s probably a good idea to inspect your medicine cabinet at this time since many prescription and non-prescription drugs cause the problem. These include drugs prescribed for depression, pain, allergies, colds, obesity, acne, epilepsy, hypertension, asthma, and diarrhea.
Next, visit your doctor for a checkup since dry mouth can be a symptom of many diseases. Some of these diseases include mumps, stroke, HIV/AIDS, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, anemia, rheumatoid arthritis, hypertension, and Parkinson’s disease.
Radiation and chemotherapy treatments can also reduce the amount of saliva in your mouth. Such treatments damage the salivary glands that produce saliva. Nerve damage following surgery or injury is another cause of dry mouth.
Bad habits like smoking or chewing tobacco can also lead to the problem. This is another reason to avoid these vices. Of course, the most obvious cause of dry mouth is lack of water or dehydration. Diarrhea, high fever, excessive sweating, and vomiting can rob your body of water and make your mouth dry. Be sure to drink enough water, especially when it’s hot or when you’re exercising.
Untreated, dry mouth can make a person susceptible to gingivitis or gum disease, tooth decay, and mouth infections. This is enough reason not to ignore the problem.
You can easily treat dry mouth if you know what’s causing it. If the medicines you take are to blame, talk to your doctor so he can change them or adjust the dose. He may recommend an oral rinse to moisten the mouth or give you something that stimulates the production of saliva.
To increase saliva, suck on sugar-free candy or sugar-free chewing gum. Drink plenty of water and use a fluoride toothpaste to keep the mouth clean. Breathe through your nose – not the mouth. Lastly, use an over-the-counter saliva substitute. These simple measures can prevent dry mouth.
Dr. Joseph D. Lim is the dean of the National University College of Dentistry, president & CEO of Dr. Smile Dental Care & Laser Center and honorary fellow of the Asian Oral Implant Academy and the Japan College of Oral Implantologists. For questions on dental health, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or text 0917-8591515.