Dry Mouth (Xerostomia)

Experiencing dry mouth is not uncommon as you age, but it is not directly caused by age itself. There are many potential factors contributing to dry mouth, including age-related changes in bodily functions. Interestingly, you are at a higher risk of developing dry mouth if you breathe more frequently through your mouth rather than your nose.

Although dry mouth can be uncomfortable, it is generally not a severe issue as long as it is not persistent. However, if it becomes chronic, it can lead to a range of long-term health problems, some of which can be irritating, while others may be more dangerous. Individuals with chronic dry mouth are likely to experience mouth sores, cracks at the corners of the mouth, dry and cracked lips, increased plaque buildup, and a greater risk of tooth decay and gum disease. Moreover, it can lead to nutritional issues because the reduced saliva production makes it more challenging to digest food during meals.

What Is A Dry Mouth?

Dry mouth, also known as xerostomia, occurs when the body fails to produce an adequate amount of saliva, resulting in a dry and often sticky feeling in the mouth. In many cases, it is primarily uncomfortable. Short-term episodes of dry mouth, often caused by anxiety or stress, are generally treatable and not a major concern. However, persistent dry mouth typically indicates underlying health issues that can lead to more significant problems and harm your teeth. In severe cases, it can even result in tooth loss. For example, as you age, your body's tolerance to the side effects of certain medications may decrease, rendering you more susceptible to dry mouth.

The causes of dry mouth are highly varied & include:
  • Stress & anxiety
  • Dehydration
  • Many medications (prescription & over-the-counter)
  • Smoking
  • Drinking alcohol
  • Radiation therapy
  • Diseases & infections (especially autoimmune disorders)
  • Nerve damage
  • Drug abuse

Treating Dry Mouth

Even if your dry mouth does not appear to be persistent, it is important to take steps to address it. Fortunately, treatment is generally straightforward for most cases of dry mouth. To begin with, it's crucial to stay well-hydrated by sipping on water throughout the day. Staying properly hydrated is not only beneficial for your dental health but also for your overall well-being. Dehydration, which dry mouth can be a sign of, is a serious health concern.

Simple measures to manage dry mouth include chewing sugarless gum and reducing your intake of salt, sugar, and caffeinated beverages in your diet. Some individuals might suggest sucking on ice cubes or sugarless hard candies, but this can potentially harm your teeth, so it's best to avoid these practices. Over-the-counter nonprescription saliva substitutes can also be purchased to alleviate your current issues.

If you use tobacco or consume alcohol, it's advisable to cut back on or quit these habits. Even if you don't believe that smoking or drinking is the primary cause of your dry mouth, these activities can exacerbate dry mouth and should be limited or eliminated altogether. Furthermore, these habits are detrimental to your overall health. The most effective treatment for dry mouth always hinges on the specific underlying cause. If home remedies or over-the-counter solutions do not alleviate your dry mouth, it may signify a more serious underlying health issue. In severe cases, it is advisable to consult a physician or dentist who can work with you to identify the root cause of your dry mouth and help you address it effectively.