Dry mouth, also known as xerostomia, is a very common condition that is more often than not caused by normal situations such as speaking for long periods of time and reduced intake of fluid. The condition is more prevalent in females as compared to males and affects more than 20% of the general population worldwide, with a higher occurrence in elderly populations.
What Is Xerostomia?
Xerostomia refers to dry mouth, which is either caused by decreased saliva or alteration in the salivary gland. It is a common condition but can have detrimental consequences on dental health and appetite.
Optimal secretion of saliva is fundamental to dental health as it keeps the tissues moist, enabling swallowing and chewing, and assisting with speech. Inadequate release of saliva can lead to an infection that can result in severe gum problems and disease.
Causes of Xerostomia
Some of the most common causes resulting in the development of xerostomia include:
1. Drugs: Various drugs are known to cause dry mouth. These drugs are mostly administered for conditions such as depression, anxiety, mood disorders, and neuropathy. Some of the common drugs responsible for this condition are painkillers, antihistamines, muscle relaxants, and decongestants.
2. Chemotherapy and radiation: Treatment strategies in cancer often lead to inadequate secretion of saliva. Drugs, which are used in chemotherapy, often alter the secretion of the salivary gland. In addition, radiation destroys the gland, thereby resulting in the decreased secretion of saliva. In most of the cases, the secretion resumes after the completion of treatment.
3. Smoking or tobacco use: Chewing tobacco or smoking significantly reduces the secretion of saliva. Smoking leads to the development of a tar layer around the dental tissues that interfere with saliva secretion.
4. Diseases: Various conditions are known to reduce the secretion of saliva, including Alzheimer’s disease, AIDS, stroke, etc. Although the conditions do not affect the salivary gland, secretion of saliva is significantly decreased in these conditions.
Symptoms of Xerostomia
Some of the common symptoms include:
- Dryness in the throat and or around the neck region
- Dry, swollen, or red-colored tongue
- Difficulty in swallowing and chewing
- Uncontrolled thirst
- Sticky mouth and dental tissues
- Bad breath
- Snoring during sleep
- Irritation or burning sensation in the tongue
- Sores in the mouth/mouth ulcers
- Inflamed corners of the mouth
- Gum disease and irritation
- Alteration in taste
Treatment Strategies for Xerostomia
Various strategies are available in the management of xerostomia. Effective treatment usually depends upon the cause of dry mouth, thus it is essential to establish proper diagnosis prior to the initiation of therapy. Some of the common strategies include:
1. Oral moisturizers: Various over-the-counter prescriptions are available that are used to keep the oral tissues moist. These prescriptions include synthetic saliva, which lubricates and rinses the mouth.
Xylitol is one of the most effective medications used in xerostomia. It has both moisturizing and bacteriostatic effects, thereby significantly providing protection against infection and improving moisture in the mouth.
2. Medications: Some of the medications that are used to stimulate the secretion of saliva are evoxac and salagen. These drugs trigger the salivary gland, resulting in increased production of saliva.
3. Flouride: During xerostomia, one of the most common complications is the development of cavities. To prevent this, fluoride is used. It is usually available as a fluoride tray or worn over the teeth.
4. Mouthwash: Mouthwash is commonly recommended to prevent infection due to decreased saliva secretion. Common options include Listerine and oral care liquids, such as chlorhexidine.
5. Oral supplements: Supplements like toothpaste, soft toothbrushes, and gels improve oral hygiene. Although these are not specified, regular use is recommended in preventing infection and improving the symptoms of xerostomia.
Complications Associated with Xerostomia
Some of the most common complications are listed below:
- Throat dryness, which can lead to choking
- Development of tongue sores, mouth ulcers, and blisters around the corners of the mouth
- Cracked lips
- Infection and inflammation of tongue and oral tissues
- Gum irritation
- Nutritional problems because of poor chewing and swallowing
Alternative Medicine for Xerostomia
Herbal remedies include marshmallow teas and slippery elm, however, no known clinical evidence is available on their application or adverse effects.
Acupuncture, including electroacupuncture, stimulates a specific region on the skin. In this method, electrodes are used to trigger the secretion of saliva.
Although xerostomia is a fairly common condition, it must not be taken lightly. Doing so can result in bad breath and gum disease. If you feel like you are experiencing the previously mentioned symptoms, schedule an appointment with your dentist and your primary care physician to come up with a safe and healthy approach for alleviating the condition.
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