The Causes and Complications of Dry Mouth and What You Can Do

Cheyenne Mountain Dental/Tounge


Do you ever feel like your mouth is so dry that there must be a wad of cotton stuffed in it?  Does your tongue ever stick to the roof of your mouth, or do you have difficulty swallowing food?  You might have a condition called xerostomia, or dry mouth.

There are many causes of dry mouth.  Sjogren’s syndrome is a disorder that destroys tear glands and salivary glands.  Diabetes causes dehydration, leading to dry mouth and excessive thirst.  If diabetes is poorly controlled, dry mouth can worsen.

Radiation to the head and neck areas for treatment of tumors damages the salivary glands.  Within a week of radiation treatment, the saliva becomes thick and ropey, eventually ceasing production.  Mouth breathing and snoring also contribute to dry mouth.

Another cause is medication.  Many commonly prescribed and over-the-counter medications lead to a decrease in salivary flow.  These include: medications to treat Parkinson’s disease, high blood pressure, colds, allergies, depression, cardiac diseases, and psychological disorders.  Diuretics (water pills), chemotherapy medication, and pain medication can also cause dry mouth.  Fortunately, medications do not cause damage to the salivary glands and salivary flow returns to normal if the medication is no longer needed.

Alcohol, tobacco, and illegal drugs such as methamphetamine use are other causes of dry mouth.     

Complications include:

  • Difficulty swallowing food and altered taste perception
  • Inability to eat spicy foods
  • Difficulty speaking, tongue sticking to roof of mouth
  • Painful and burning tongue sensation
  • Constant thirst
  • Dry, cracked lips including corners of lips  
  • Gum disease, bad breath
  • Grooved tongue
  • Denture sores
  • Increased cavity formation, increased plaque

What can you do about it?  Carry a water bottle with you and take frequent sips of water.  Sleep on your side to help reduce mouth breathing and snoring.  Use a humidifier at night.  Avoid spicy foods, tobacco, and alcohol.  Use fluoride rinses, professionally applied fluoride varnishes, and toothpastes (Squigle or Tandem) without sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) which causes foaming action that can irritate   dry mouths.  Chewing sugarless gum containing xylitol (a natural sweetener that doesn’t cause cavities) can help remove food debris that saliva would naturally do and help stimulate saliva in cases where there is low salivary flow and no destruction of the salivary glands.  Drinking whole or 2% milk can moisturize the mouth.                                                   

Biotene products are specifically made for dry mouth and include toothpaste, mouthwash, and moisturizing gel.  The gel is especially helpful when applying prior to eating as it will aid in swallowing food.  It will also keep the mouth moisturized through the night.  Biotene products can be found at most pharmacies and is over-the-counter.

Dry mouth can reduce the quality of life.  These recommendations will help reduce the complications associated with low or lack of salivary production, making you much more comfortable.  Call for an appointment and I, your friendly hygienist, will answer any questions you might have.

Susan Divine, RDH

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