Dry Mouth / Xerostomia

Do you feel you have less saliva than you've had in the past? Does your mouth feel dry at mealtime? Do you have trouble eating dry foods? Is swallowing difficult? Do you need to moisten your mouth often or sip liquids often? If you answer yes, you are one of many people who suffer from xerostomia ( "zero-stoh'-me-a). Even though xerostomia is not a disease, it can be a symptom of certain diseases. Xerostomia can result from medical treatment or as a side effect of many medications. Many times xerostomia is caused by failure of the salivary glands to function normally, but the sensation can also occur in people with normal salivary glands. Xerostomia can cause health problems by affecting nutrition as well as psychological health. It can contribute to and increase the chances of contracting tooth decay and mouth infections.

Saliva has important functions. Everyone needs saliva to:

Wash away food debris and plaque from the teeth to help prevent decay.

Limit the growth of bacteria that cause tooth decay and other mouth infections.

Bathe the teeth and supply minerals that allow remineralization of early cavities.

Lubricate foods so they may be swallowed more easily.

Providing enzymes that aid in digestion.

Help us enjoy foods by aiding in the "tasting" process.

Moisten the skin inside the mouth to make chewing and speaking easier.


Xerostomia can be caused by:

* Medications - Several hundred current medications can cause xerostomia. The major drug groups are antihypertensives and antidepressants. Analgesics, tranquilizers, diuretics, and antihistamines can also cause dry mouth.

* Cancer Therapy - Chemotherapeutic drugs can change the flow and composition of the saliva. Radiation treatment that is focused on or near the salivary gland can temporarily or permanently damage the salivary glands.

* Sjogren's syndrome, an autoimmune disease, causes xerostomia and dry eyes.

* Other conditions such as bone marrow transplants, endocrine disorders, stress, anxiety, depression, and nutritional deficiencies may cause xerostomia.

* Nerve Damage - Trauma to the head and neck area from surgery or wounds can damage the nerves that supply sensation to the mouth. While the salivary glands may be left intact, they cannot function normally without the nerves that signal them to produce saliva.

* Conditions like Alzheimer's disease or stroke may change the ability to perceive oral sensations.

If you suspect you have xerostomia, I would recommend you visit your dentist or physician to determine the cause. If you know the cause, relief may be found from several sources. Saliva substitutes are available to moisten and lubricate the mouth. Sugarless hard candies may be helpful in stimulating saliva flow. Medications may be added, changed, or dosages altered to provide increased salivary flow.

Dr. Prasanth Pillai K.S., BDS,MDS-OMFS.

Email  drprasanth@pramodclinic.com