If your mouth often feels dry, and you have bad breath, a bad taste in your mouth or difficulty swallowing, you might have a condition known as dry mouth syndrome (xerostomia). This condition is a result of reduced or absent saliva flow in the mouth.
Dry mouth is believed to affect about 10 percent of Australians, increasing to 25 percent for older people. As well as causing discomfort, dry mouth can be a symptom of an underlying health problem, so it's important to get a diagnosis from a dentist or doctor.
How do I know if I have dry mouth syndrome?
As well as a feeling of dryness in the mouth, tongue and throat, dry mouth syndrome can also be characterised by:
- bad breath or a bad taste in your mouth
- thickened or stringy saliva
- dry or cracked lips
- difficulty chewing or swallowing dry foods
- tongue sticking to the roof of the mouth
- frequent mouth ulcers or oral thrush infections
- dentures coming loose.
Your dentist may diagnose dry mouth syndrome during your routine oral health assessment.
Why is dry mouth a problem?
Saliva helps to rinse the mouth, neutralises acids produced by plaque and contains antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral compounds that can help prevent infections. Saliva also contains calcium and phosphorus, which help to strengthen and rebuild teeth enamel.
When you don’t have enough saliva in your mouth, it is not just your quality of life that is impacted. Dry mouth can also increase your risk of developing oral health problems such as tooth decay and gum disease.
In older people, dry mouth is a major cause of speech impairment and is linked to an increased risk of aspiration pneumonia.
What causes dry mouth?
Temporary mouth dryness may be caused by specific diet or lifestyle factors, such as drinking alcohol or caffeine, eating spicy foods or smoking. Avoiding these substances could relieve the condition.
Dry mouth is a common side-effect of medications, including many antidepressants, antihistamines, decongestants and blood pressure medications, among others. Cancer treatments can also disrupt salivary gland function.
Health problems that lead to dehydration or affect the salivary glands can also cause dry mouth, including infections, autoimmune diseases, sinus problems and damaged nerves.
Ageing and hormone changes during pregnancy and menopause also increase the risk of dry mouth developing.
How can it be treated?
If your dentist diagnoses dry mouth syndrome, they'll recommend trying to avoid any aggravating factors that may be causing it or making it worse. This could mean quitting smoking, drinking less alcohol and coffee, or talking to your doctor about changing your medication.
They may also prescribe artificial saliva substitutes and lubricants that should be used as directed. If the salivary glands are blocked, they may require surgery.
If your dry mouth may be a symptom of another condition, your dentist may refer you to another health professional who can make a diagnosis and recommend appropriate treatments.
How can it be prevented?
If you're concerned about dry mouth and want to lower the risk of it developing, you should focus on maintaining good oral hygiene, drinking plenty of water and keeping your salivary glands stimulated.
Drinking plenty of water, eating food that is chewy or high in water content, and chewing sugar-free gum will encourage saliva flow. You should also try to minimise or avoid mouth-drying foods and drinks, as well as those high in sugar or acids that can encourage plaque and tooth decay.
It's also important to brush and floss your teeth twice a day, and keep up with your scheduled dental visits to help keep oral health problems at bay.
Is it time for your dental check-up?
If you're due for a check-up and clean, contact our friendly team at Face Value Dental.
Call us on (07 3221 0677 or make an appointment online with our dentists in Brisbane CBD.
 Better Health Channel. Dry mouth syndrome [Online] 2017 [Accessed July 2018] Available from: https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/ConditionsAndTreatments/dry-mouth-syndrome
 NSW Government. Oral Health Care for Older People in NSW [Online] 2014 [Accessed July 2018] Available from: http://www.health.nsw.gov.au/oralhealth/Publications/oral-health-older-people-toolkit.pdf