A Guide to Dry Mouth

Imagine you’re about to make a big presentation in a business meeting. You’re well-prepared but you can’t help but feel nervous. Of course, it doesn’t help that when you do get nervous, your mouth gets very dry so even taking a sip of water can take nerves of steel!

We all know that feeling, don’t we? Whether it is a big business meeting, a first date or a big occasion where you might find yourself the centre of attention, plenty of us get nervous. Most of the time, it is no big deal. But imagine if that case of dry mouth persisted even when you were not nervous. Imagine how difficult that would make everyday life. Food and drink becomes harder to swallow. Talking confidently becomes difficult. It’s one of those minor conditions that you can just do without.

It’s got a medical name too – xerostomia. Xerostomia is when you are not generating enough saliva to keep you mouth wet so that, as time goes on, it becomes uncomfortable and difficult to live with. From time to time, we all have slight xerostomia – as above, during big meetings or on a first date. For some people, however, it is not just an occasional condition.

Saliva is produced by glands underneath your tongue. The problem of xerostomia occurs when these glands are not working or not working effectively. While it is uncomfortable, it can also affect your oral health. Saliva is part of the body’s natural defence against the build-up of plaque and bacteria in the mouth. So if you are not producing enough saliva, the bacteria that causes tooth decay is not being broken down as effectively as it could be.

Sometimes, dry mouth can also be more than merely an uncomfortable condition. It can be the symptom of other health issues. For example, many prescription drugs for other types of illnesses can cause dry mouth, as well as some diseases such as diabetes. If you have a persistent case of dry mouth, you should consult your doctor.

What can you do to treat dry mouth? Well most doctors would recommend a two-step approach. Firstly, there are a number of measures that you can take on a day-to-day basis which can help to ease your discomfort. Sipping on water or chewing sugar-free gum can help as it can stimulate the production of saliva. Fruit is also good for refreshing your mouth and you should always keep some lip balm handy. One aspect of dry mouth is that your lips can become parched.

It can also help if you avoid food and drinks that can dehydrate you. Therefore, stay away from eating too much salt, for example, or drinking excess alcohol, as both of these will dry your mouth even further. If you are dehydrated, sipping water will help.

The second step in the treatment process is to look at tackling the actual causes of your xerostomia. You should consult your doctor. If your dry mouth is being caused by other prescription drugs, your doctor may be able to alter your dosage or prescribe a different treatment. Sometimes, cancer treatments cause dry mouth and this is treated using a drug named Pilocarpine. In very serious cases, your doctor may consider prescribing this.

Some over-the-counter treatments that are available on the market are not necessarily effective. You can buy ‘substitute saliva’ which is supposed to replace the missing saliva with an artificial version. However, if you are taking other measures such as chewing gum, sipping water and eating fruit, this is generally thought to be just as effective.

It is important to remember that dry mouth is not just uncomfortable. It can be damaging to your teeth as it helps to foster an environment where bacteria can thrive. When this happens, the bacteria can lead to decay and gum disease. Therefore, if you do suffer from dry mouth, it is important that you see your dentist regularly to have your teeth checked.