What is dry mouth, and what can I do about it?

Dry mouth, also called xerostomia, is caused by low salivary flow in the mouth. There are a number of things that can cause dry mouth, such as:

  • Medical conditions, such as Sjogren’s Syndrome;
  • Side effects from medications, such as antidepressants and other psychopharmaceuticals;
  • Obstruction of the upper respiratory tract, which can result in mouth breathing
  • Sleep apnea and other sleep disorders;
  • Radiation treatment of cancers in or near the mouth, which can affect the salivary glands.

Saliva is incredibly important to the overall health of your mouth, as it:

  • Lubricates the mouth, making it easier to chew and swallow;
  • Washes food off of the teeth and gums;
  • Transports minerals to the teeth, which strengthens them;
  • Neutralizes the acids produced by oral bacteria that cause cavities;
  • Defends against microbes that can cause diseases of the teeth and gums.

Studies show that most people don’t recognize dry mouth until their supply of saliva decreases to about 60% of normal. But there are early warning signs to watch out for, such as difficulty swallowing and speaking, burning sensations, dry mucous membranes in the throat and nose, a persistent sore throat that doesn’t go away, and an increase in cavities and tooth decay.

While dry mouth can be a frustrating, there are ways to combat it. Make sure to drink lots of water, and keep an ample supply of sugar free mints, candies and gums, especially those that contain xylitol. For more assistance, speak to your dentist about what you can do to alleviate dry mouth and its unpleasant symptoms.