Dry mouth is a condition that many of us have experienced at some point in life. However, for some people it is a problem that can wreak havoc on their lives. This is why we have put together this list of questions we are most frequently asked about dry mouth.
What is dry mouth?
The medical term for dry mouth is “xerostomia” (“xero” – dry; “stomia” – mouth) and it affects millions of people in the US alone. It is caused by an insufficient flow of saliva, the liquid produced by the salivary glands. These glands are located in the inside cheeks of the mouth by the back top molars and in the floor (under the tongue) of the mouth. When functioning properly, they produce two to four pints of liquid every 24 hours.
Can drugs contribute to dry mouth?
Yes, both prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) drugs can cause dry mouth. This is one reason we so often find it in senior citizens, as they are typically on more medications than younger, healthier people.
What about diseases...can they cause dry mouth?
Certain systemic (general body) and autoimmune (“auto” – self; “immune” – resistance system) diseases, in which the body reacts against its own tissue, can cause dry mouth. Other diseases that can be the culprit include: diabetes, Parkinson's disease, cystic fibrosis, and AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome). Radiation and chemotherapy used to treat head and neck cancers can inflame, damage or destroy the salivary glands—thus causing dry mouth.
Are there any remedies for dry mouth?
Yes! If medication is the primary cause of your dry mouth, there may be other, similar drugs that can be substituted that do not produce the same side effect. If you feel this describes your situation, discuss your concerns with the prescribing physician. Another option is taking an OTC or prescription saliva stimulant to temporarily relieve the dryness. Or, you can suck on a candy made with xylitol, a natural sugar substitute, four to five times a day. Xylitol has been shown to help stimulate the production of saliva with the added benefit of reducing the odds of getting cavities.