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Compiled by Asanda Mbayimbayi

Constantly have a dry mouth? Here’s what could be causing it

Xerostomia, commonly known as dry mouth, can be more than just a nuisance, posing potential risks to oral health and overall well-being.

Maintaining oral health and safeguarding teeth and gums from bacteria and acids heavily relies on saliva.

If saliva production decreases, it can result in various dental issues such as mouth sores, oral thrush, tooth decay, gum disease and unpleasant breath.

Affinity Health, a prominent healthcare provider, says dry mouth, medically referred to as xerostomia, is more than just a bothersome condition; it poses a genuine risk to both oral health and overall well-being.

What is dry mouth?

It is a frequently occurring condition that impacts a considerable number of individuals during their lifetimes.

The American Dental Association reports that approximately 20% of the population suffers from dry mouth, though its occurrence may fluctuate based on age and other influencing factors.

Picture: iStock
Picture: iStock

Signs and symptoms

The following ongoing symptoms can arise due to inadequate saliva production:

  • Dryness or stickiness in the mouth
  • Thick and stringy saliva
  • Bad breath
  • Difficulty with chewing, speaking, and swallowing
  • Sore throat or hoarseness
  • Dry or grooved tongue
  • Altered sense of taste
  • Difficulty with wearing dentures

Common causes

Affinity Health identifies the following as the top five prevalent causes of dry mouth:

  • Medications: Dry mouth is a common side effect of many medications, including antihistamines, antidepressants, and blood pressure medications. These drugs can interfere with the salivary glands, reducing saliva production.
  • Dehydration: Dehydration is a common cause of dry mouth, as the body needs adequate fluids to produce saliva. When the body is dehydrated, the salivary glands may not produce enough saliva, leading to this condition.
  • Ageing: The salivary glands may not function well as we age, leading to decreased saliva production. This can result in a dry mouth and an increased risk of dental problems.
  • Medical conditions: Certain conditions can cause dry mouth, including Sjogren’s syndrome, HIV/AIDS, diabetes and Parkinson’s disease. These conditions can affect the salivary glands, reducing saliva production.
  • Lifestyle factors: Lifestyle factors like smoking and alcohol consumption can also contribute to dry mouth. Smoking can interfere with the salivary glands, while alcohol can lead to dehydration, reducing saliva production.
  • Other reasons for dry mouth can be nerve damage in the head and neck area and using recreational drugs.

Affinity Health’s CEO, Murray Hewlett, warns that if left untreated, dry mouth can cause dental issues.

“Dry mouth is a common condition that can lead to a range of dental problems if left untreated. It’s important to understand the causes of this condition so that you can take steps to prevent it,” says Murray Hewlett.

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Picture: iStock
Picture: iStock

How is Xerostomia Diagnosed?

When diagnosing dry mouth, your doctor will usually assess your medical history and the medications you are currently taking, including over-the-counter drugs.

Additionally, they will examine your mouth for any signs of dryness.

In certain situations, additional tests may be required to identify the underlying cause of your dry mouth. These tests could involve blood tests, imaging scans of the salivary glands, or saliva production tests.

If there is a suspicion of Sjogren’s syndrome, your doctor may take a biopsy sample from your lip to confirm the condition.

“Sjogren’s syndrome is a chronic autoimmune disorder in which the body’s immune system attacks and damages the glands that produce moisture, such as the salivary and tear glands.

“This results in dry mouth and dry eyes, as well as other symptoms such as joint pain, fatigue, and skin rashes.

“Sjogren’s syndrome can also affect other body parts, including the lungs, kidneys, and nervous system. The cause of Sjogren’s syndrome is not fully understood, but it is thought to be a combination of genetic and environmental factors.

“There is no cure for Sjogren’s syndrome, but treatment can help manage symptoms and prevent complications,” further elaborated Hewlett.

How to prevent dry mouth

Affinity Health suggests the following tips to avoid dry mouth:

  • Drink plenty of water
  • Chew sugar-free gum or suck on sugar-free candies
  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol
  • Use a humidifier
  • Brush and floss regularly
  • Limit sugary and acidic foods
  • Use a fluoride mouthwash
  • Avoid tobacco
  • Talk to your doctor about your medications
  • Seek treatment for underlying medical conditions

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