Dry mouth

Dry mouth (Xerostomia)

What is dry mouth?

The medical term for dry mouth is xerostomia, and it is a condition which occurs when the production of saliva sharply decreases or stops altogether. Saliva is the clear, watery solution which is present in the mouth at all times, and its function is to lubricate the mouth so that we can speak and taste our food. It also aids in preventing tooth decay as it washes away food and plaque from the surface of the teeth.

People who suffer from dry mouth are at increased risk of tooth decay, gum disease and a range of other illnesses affecting the soft tissues of the mouth. The diet may also be severely affected because food cannot be tasted as it normally would.

What causes it?

There are several reasons why dry mouth may occur. Among them are the following:

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms to watch out for in cases where xerostomia may be present are:

Many of the above symptoms are quite common and, taken in isolation, they rarely indicate the onset of a condition as serious as xerostomia. However, if a number of them are present at the same time, medical investigation is warranted.

How is it diagnosed?

Dry mouth can be diagnosed either by your doctor or dentist. As well as taking a thorough medical history and asking for a description of your symptoms, your dentist will also look for signs of cavities and gum disease and may suggest a referral to your GP if the onset of dry mouth is suspected.

Your GP will carry out a thorough examination of your mouth to assess the flow of saliva and will also look for cracks and sores inside the mouth and around the area of the lips. They will also take account of what medication, if any, you are currently taking either with or without prescription, and if you are receiving any medical treatment for a particular condition.

What is the treatment?

The treatment of xerostomia depends on the severity of the problem, and very often the condition will remain a problem as long as its cause is present. For example, if you are receiving radiation treatment for head or neck cancer, xerostomia will remain a side-effect for as long as the treatment continues. In some cases, radiation therapy may permanently affect the ability of the salivary glands to produce saliva.

Having said that, the treatment of xerostomia focuses on three main areas:

Sometimes, your doctor and dentist will work in tandem in the management of xerostomia, with your dentist concentrating on oral hygiene and the prevention of dental decay and your GP working on reducing the more unpleasant side effects of the condition, and trying to increase the flow of saliva.

Are there any self-help remedies?

The symptoms of xerostomia may be relieved to some degree if you follow some of these self-help tips:

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