Dry mouth is an oral condition that is fairly self-explanatory: it is where there is not enough saliva production inside the mouth.
Saliva adds a very important element to virtually every function your mouth needs to do. When a bite of food enters the mouth, alongside chewing with teeth there are enzymes in spit that help begin breaking down food before it even enters the stomach. This aids in not only swallowing properly but digestion as well.
The saliva glands continue producing day and night to help wash away leftover debris between meals. This helps keep teeth clean and is our body’s natural, initial defense against cavities. Build-up from the bacteria in saliva is what causes plaque, which is why we have to brush our teeth manually at least once a day. But if we didn’t have saliva, we would have to brush and wash away debris much more frequently!
Not only is saliva helpful with eating and preserving teeth, but it keeps the mouth well lubricated for speaking, and prevents the tongue and gums from drying out and cracking. It is crucial that the tongue always stays wet – if it doesn’t, taste buds don’t work properly! Yes – we actually could not taste food very well without spit!
Amazingly enough, our body actually produces less saliva when we sleep at night. If you sleep with your mouth open, you might notice that you will drool a little bit at night. But if you’ve ever woken up with cotton mouth, it’s because not only did leftover moisture leave the mouth (drool) but the production of saliva reduces significantly.
There are a couple ways that we can experience temporary dry mouth: dehydration, stress, or sleeping with your mouth open. But when dry mouth persists, it is known as a clinical condition called xerostomia (zehr-ehs-toh-mee-ah), which is much more serious.
Xerostomia is caused primarily by certain medications. There are over 500 prescription and over-the-counter drugs that can affect fluid regulation in the body, such as allergy medicines (antihistamines). It can also be caused by antidepressants, and chemotherapy drugs.
The common misconception is that mostly elderly people get dry mouth, which simply isn’t true. Many individuals who take the above medications are susceptible; and cancer, allergies, and mood disorders can appear at any age.
Radiation treatments to the head and neck (for cancer found in these areas) can also cause permanent damage to the glands. Other diseases such as diabetes, Parkinson’s, cystic fibrosis, and AIDS can also have dry mouth as an added ailment.
If you think you or your child may have dry mouth, here are some steps you can take:
- If you or your child take a regular medication(s), tell your doctor about the dryness you are experiencing and see if dry mouth is one of the side effects.
- Take regular sips of fluid. It is imperative that your mouth continually stay moist and wash away food debris throughout the day. Water is always best.
- Sleep with a humidifier in the room. This can be really soothing, especially if you are prone to sleeping with your mouth open.
- Don’t smoke. This will definitely aggravate the dryness!
- Practice good oral hygiene. Remember when we said that if we didn’t have saliva, we’d have to brush more frequently?! That’s because with dry mouth there lacks a natural way for food and bacteria to be consistently flushed out.
- Don’t forget to see your dentist twice a year. This is just a good practice, whether you have dry mouth or not!