A dry mouth occurs when you don’t have enough saliva to keep your mouth wet. Saliva helps prevent tooth decay and gum diseases by neutralizing acids produced by bacteria, limiting bacterial growth, and washing away food particles. Globally, About 10% of the general population and 25% of older people have dry mouth.
A typical observation is when you just wake up from your bed, your mouth feels dry. But why? Have you ever thought about it? Well, dry mouth in the morning as soon as you wake up, is a normal phenomenon since salivary glands are not active while you are asleep. Naturally, the salivary flow is reduced and you wake up with a dry mouth.
So what does having a dry mouth actually mean?
A dry mouth, or xerostomia, refers to a condition in which the salivary glands in your mouth don’t produce enough saliva to keep your mouth wet. A dry mouth can be caused by certain medications or ageing issues, or as a result of radiation therapy for cancer. Also, athletes, marathon runners, and people playing any kind of sports may experience a dry mouth as well. In addition to these conditions, dry mouth may also be caused by a condition that directly affects the salivary glands.
Saliva plays an important role in the oral health process. It neutralizes acids produced by bacteria, limits bacterial growth, and washes away food particles. Saliva also enhances your ability to taste and makes it easier to chew and swallow. In addition, enzymes in saliva aid in digestion.
Let’s find out how decreased saliva and dry mouth can range from being merely a nuisance to something that has a major impact on your general health and the health of your teeth and gums.
Dry mouth causes
What makes your mouth feel so dry?
Dehydration and less water intake:
Dry mouth is a common condition caused by dehydration. A decrease in the overall water content of your body causes a decrease in the production of saliva in your mouth.
Breathing from your mouth:
Some people have the habit of breathing through their mouths instead of their noses. This makes their mouths dry, as their mouths are always open. Wearing a mask may also cause breathing difficulties, and these people may start breathing from their mouths automatically.
Athletes are more prone to mouth breathing which makes them susceptible to dry mouth. Wearing sports guards and habit-breaking appliances can prevent the consequences.
Diuretics, pain killers, BP medication, antidepressants, antihistamines, asthma drugs, muscle relaxants as well as over-the-counter medications like decongestants and medication for allergies and cold can have dry mouth as side effects. Patients with diabetes experience dry mouth and their consequences because of fluctuations in their sugar levels as well as prescribed medications.
Chemotherapy or radiation therapy:
These treatments cause your saliva to thicken creating an effect like dry mouth or damage the salivary gland ducts cause a decreased amount of saliva flow.
Damage to the salivary glands or their nerves:
One of the serious causes of Xerostomia is a damage to the nerves carrying messages to and from the brain to the salivary glands. As a result, the glands are unaware of when to produce saliva, which leads to a drying up of the oral cavity.
Tobacco in any form :
Apart from these causes, smoking cigars, cigarettes, joules, e-cigarettes or any other tobacco-related products in combination with any of the above symptoms can also aggravate the effects of dry mouth.
Smoking cigarettes, e-cigarettes, marijuana, etc., excess alcohol consumption, mouth breathing, frequent or excess use of alcoholic mouthwashes
Medical Conditions :
Severe Dehydration, Damage to salivary glands or nerves, Prescription medicines (Diuretics, pain killers, BP medication, antidepressants, antihistamines, asthma drugs, muscle relaxants as well as over-the-counter medications like decongestants and medication for allergies and cold), Chemotherapy or radiation therapy during cancer treatments, autoimmune diseases such as Sjogren’s syndrome, Diabetes, Alzheimer, HIV, Anemia, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Patients on medication for Hypertension (increased blood pressure).
Patients suffering from covid-19 usually experience dry mouth. Some people notice it along with loss of taste as the first symptom of covid. Taking the necessary precautions during this time is a must. Hydrate with drinking plenty of water. Use a mouthwash for dry mouth. People suffering from covid and dry mouth also experience ulcerations in the mouth. Avoid eating spicy foods during this time.
Dry mouth signs and symptoms
Reduced salivary flow may cause difficulty in speech, swallowing, and digestion or permanent mouth and throat disorders, and also some dental problems. A reduction in the salivary flow may cause an unpleasant feeling in your mouth and you would want to consume more liquids. Your mouth might seem a little sticky and you may experience difficulty in swallowing or talking due to decreased lubrication.
You may also notice your tongue feeling rough and dry, which may lead to a burning sensation and gradual loss of taste sensations. Subsequently, it makes your gums look pale and bleed and swell up and also causes sores to form in your mouth. A dry mouth consequently leads to bad breath as a lack of saliva is unable to flush out all the residual bacteria.
Patients suffering from the dry mouth also complain of dry nasal passages, dry corners of the mouth, and a dry and itchy throat. Furthermore, a decrease in salivation can lead to dental decay and various periodontal conditions.
Here are some common signs that may help you understand if you are suffering from dry mouth
- Dry and dehydrated gums
- Dry and flaky lips
- Thick saliva
- Frequent thirst
- Sores in the mouth; sores or split skin at the corners of the mouth; cracked lips
- A dry feeling in the throat
- A burning or tingling sensation in the mouth and especially on the tongue.
- Inability to eat anything hot and spicy
- A dry, white coating on the tongue
- Problems speaking or trouble tasting, chewing and swallowing
- Hoarseness, dry nasal passages, sore throat
- Bad breath
How dry mouth can affect your teeth and gums?
You may notice sometimes the food stuck on your teeth disappears after sometime. For example when you have a piece of chocolate. This is because saliva dissolves the remnants left behind on the tooth surface and helps flush out the food particles. Lack of saliva can make your teeth more prone to tooth decay and there will be more plaque and calculus build up around the gums and teeth causing gum infections. Also, saliva contains antibacterial properties and helps get rid of bad bacteria in the mouth. Absence of saliva can make your mouth prone to oral infections.
A dry mouth can make your mouth more prone to plaque and calculus buildup around your teeth and gums. This can cause gum irritations and lead to gum infections like gingivitis and more advanced conditions like periodontitis.
Is dry mouth a serious condition?
Consequences and long-term impact if not addressed in time may prove dry mouth to be serious condition.
- Candidiasis-Patients with dry mouth are more prone to developing oral thrush (fungal infection), also called a yeast infection.
- Tooth decay- saliva protects flushes out food in the mouth and helps prevent tooth decay. Absence of saliva makes your teeth prone to tooth cavities.
- Lead to gum infections like gingivitis and periodontitis
- Difficulty in speech and swallowing food- saliva is needed for lubrication and to turn the food into a bolus for easy passage through the food pipe (esophagus)
- Bad breath- Dry mouth. Saliva helps cleanse your mouth, removing particles that cause bad odors. Dry mouth can contribute to bad breath because the production of saliva is decreased.
- Throat disorders like Dry, itchy throat and dry coughing are commonly experienced by people due to the absence of saliva.
- Dry corners of the mouth.
Dry mouth can make you prone to certain conditions
- Oral infections -Bacterial, viral, and fungal
- Gum diseases – Gingivitis and periodontitis
- Candidal infection in the mouth
- White tongue
- Bad breath
- More plaque and calculus buildup on teeth
- Acid reflux (acidity)
- Digestion problems
Ignoring dry mouth condition can make it worse
- Tooth decay
- Mouth sores (ulcers)
- Nutritional deficiencies from having problems with chewing and swallowing
- Heart Diseases- Hypertension
- Neurological diseases – Alzheimer
- Blood disorders- Anemia
- Autoimmune diseases – Rheumatoid Arthritis, Sjogren’s syndrome
- STI- HIV
Dry mouth remedies and at-home care
It may sound cliché, but brushing and gargling after every meal is a must. This will prevent the food from sticking around and lessen your chances of bad breath. Use toothpaste that does not cause any burning sensation in your mouth. Make sure to rinse your mouth at least at times when brushing immediately after a meal is not feasible. Simply sipping water throughout the day and using an alcohol-free antiseptic will prove quite effective in helping you maintain your oral wellness and fighting off the most harsh effects of dry mouth.
Apart from these, if your dentist sees fit, they might ask you to chew a few sugar-free lozenges, candy, or gum; preferably lemon flavored which may help to increase the saliva production and in return give you relief from the side effects of dry mouth.
- Oil pulling with pure virgin coconut oil early in the morning
- Use glycerin-based mouthwash to prevent gum dehydration
- Use a fluoridated toothpaste/ mouthwash to prevent tooth cavities
- Stay hydrated. Drink sips of water throughout the day
- Avoid eating anything hot and spicy
- Moisten your food and avoid eating dry food items
- Include vitamin C in your diet
- Chew gum or suck on hard candy
- Avoid alcohol, caffeine, and acidic juices
- Avoid smoking or using chewing tobacco
Oral care products for dry mouth
- Dry mouth mouthwash – Non-alcoholic glycerin-based mouthwash
- Toothpaste – Sodium -Fluoride toothpaste without clove and other herbal ingredients
- Toothbrush – Soft and tapered bristle toothbrush
- Gum care – Coconut oil pulling oil / Gum massaging ointment
- Floss – Waxed coating dental tape floss
- Tongue cleaner – U-shaped / silicon tongue cleaner
The bottom line
Dry mouth may not seem a big deal initially, but it can lead to other dental problems which you may not see coming. The dry mouth needs to be addressed in time and the right oral care products should be used in order to prevent it from getting worse (Click here to buy the oral care hamper kit for dry mouth). If you are unable to recognize the signs and symptoms you can visit a nearby dentist or scan your mouth to know your oral type (Click here to know your oral type) or video consult with qualified dentists (on your phone on the DentalDost App) at the comfort of your home.
- About 10% of the general population and 25% of older people have dry mouth.
- Dry mouth is often seen in many underlying medical conditions, including covid-19.
- Dry mouth conditions can lead to other dental problems like increased tooth cavities and gum infections.
- Choosing the right oral care products is important to prevent dry mouth from getting worse.