Xerostomia: When Saliva Goes missing
Do you ever wake up and feel like you’ve been sucking on a cotton ball? Or that you just crossed the Sahara Desert without taking enough water? Everyone deals with a dry mouth occasionally. At night, your saliva glands reduce their output and little moisture flows into your mouth. Plus, mouth-breathing often dries you out a bit more. But as you wake up, saliva glands start pumping the first of 50 ounces of daily fluid supporting the first step of digestion. Soon everything feels back to normal
But what if you’re amongst the 10% of the population that deals with persistent dry mouth, known as xerostomia? No matter what you do, your mouth feels parched most of the time. Good saliva flow is easy to take for granted, until you no longer have it. And for millions of people, the loss of mouth moisture is a serious quality-of-life issue.
Saliva is 99.5% water, but it also contains a host of components that support your health. Key enzymes, suspended in a mucous matrix that lubricates the mouth, comprise the first step in digestion. And other enzymes that destroy bacteria join the complex environment supported by healthy salivary flow. Electrolytes, along with specialized compounds like opiorphin, a pain-killing substance, help support a system that’s easy to take for granted when it works right. Furthermore, saliva helps buffer against acidity, a state that leaves teeth dangerously susceptible to rapid tooth decay.
Why Does This Happen?
Numerous causes lurk behind the scenes to hinder the reliable production of saliva. A few of the most common culprits to consider include:
- Medications: Xerostomia is a frustrating side effect of nearly 500 medications! And frequently patients taking multiple prescriptions compound the problem even further. For many patients, this is a catch-22: The medicine is necessary, but the side effects create other problems.
- Disease and Medical Conditions: Dry mouth accompanies a range of conditions including Sjogren’s Syndrome, Alzheimer's, diabetes, cystic fibrosis, rheumatoid arthritis, Parkinson’s disease, and others.
- Cancer Treatment: Radiation to the head and neck area can damage salivary glands leading to a permanent reduction in production. Some types of chemotherapy may alter moisture levels also.
- Nerve Damage: Surgery or an injury to specific nerves may cause dry mouth.
If any of these possibilities could be behind your dry mouth problems, definitive solutions may be difficult to find. However, there are a few tips that will help you reduce both the discomfort and risk associated with xerostomia. Consider the following:
- Medication Changes: It’s rarely a good idea to drop your prescribed medications to eliminate dry mouth problems. And you certainly wouldn’t want to make changes without consulting your physician. But there may be useful alternatives to explore. Be sure to talk it over with your doctor.
- New Medications: While you’re talking to your doctor, you might explore the possibility of using a prescription that stimulates saliva production. They’re not for everyone, but ask for more information in regards to your situation.
- Drink Water: Dry mouth or not, most of us don’t hydrate enough. Carry water with you everywhere and sip freely...all the time.
- Limit Alcohol and Caffeine: When you’re parched, you don’t need any extra hindrance. Avoid these dehydrating products.
- Try xylitol mints, chewing gum, saliva substitutes, or other products: Xylitol mints, placed in your cheek like a lifesaver, dissolve slowly and add moisture to your mouth. But DON’T use other types of candies! They can promote tooth decay, while xylitol products protect against decay.
Many other tricks will help you adapt to the challenges of xerostomia. The Dentistry in Bellevue team will help customize solutions that increase your comfort and decrease your risk of dental problems associated with a dry mouth.