Dry Mouth

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What is dry mouth?

Does your mouth feel dry and sticky when you first wake up in the morning? Do you feel the urge to drink lots of water?

Dry mouth can make it hard for you to swallow, chew your food or speak clearly. With a dry mouth your teeth can decay quickly because of the reduced amount of saliva helping to protect your teeth.

Untreated dry mouth can also contribute to bad breath, and sometimes others will notice the stale odor.

Burning mouth syndrome has been associated with a dry mouth. Dry mouth is a daily problem that makes you feel uncomfortable while you swallow, eat (taste can be affected) or speak.

Your mouth needs saliva to be able to work properly. Saliva keeps your mouth moist, and it helps to break down your food and helps you to swallow. It also acts as a cleanser. It is constantly washing around your mouth and teeth, fighting decay and helping to keep your teeth clean. Dry mouth or ‘xerostomia’ is a condition which affects the flow of saliva, causing your mouth to feel dry.

What causes Dry Mouth?

Dry mouth can be a symptom of many different problems and tends to become more common with increasing age. Quite often it is a side effect of medication, especially heart, blood pressure and depression tablets. Your doctor, chemist or dentist should be able to tell you whether your medication can cause problems.

Women who are going through the menopause (‘change of life’) may suffer from dry mouth. Women who have had their menopause and are taking Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) may also find they suffer from dry mouth. If you are taking medication and have any of the symptoms of dry mouth, talk to your doctor to see whether the tablets could be altered.

Dry mouth can be caused by medical treatment such as radiotherapy, or surgery to the head or neck – these can damage the salivary glands and reduce the production of saliva.

In some cases, dry mouth can be a direct result of a medical condition (for example diabetes, lupus, Sjogren’s syndrome and blocked salivary glands).

How can Dry Mouth be treated?

Dry Mouth can be a difficult condition to treat – sometimes simply altering a medication can lead to a big improvement but in the majority of cases, treatment involves managing the reduced saliva in the most effective way possible:-

There are different ways of relieving the symptoms of dry mouth. Some people find that sipping water, or sucking sugar-free sweets, helps in the short term. It is very important to use sugar-free products, as dry mouth can make you more likely to have tooth decay. Chewing sugar-free gum can also help as it encourages your mouth to make saliva.

Your dentist might recommend products such as rinses, gels, pastes and lozenges which you can get from the chemist.

Your dentist won’t be able to help with the cause of dry mouth. But by helping you keep your mouth clean and by using fluoride they can, in many cases, help to delay the start of dental decay. Your dentist or hygienist will be able to give you advice about your diet and tell you how to care for your teeth and gums properly.

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