Relieving Dry Mouth

Dry Mouth (Xerostomia)

Also known as xerostomia (ZEER-oh-STOH-mee-ah), dry mouth is due to a lack of saliva flow or changes in the amount of saliva your body produces.

We’ve all experienced dry mouth occasionally, such as when we’ve been too nervous. However, if the condition lingers, it becomes more serious. Dry mouth is not a disease, though. Instead, it’s a condition caused by any number of medical conditions.

Symptoms of dry mouth
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Thirst
  • Thick, stringy saliva
  • Dry nasal passages
  • Sore throat
  • Dry, sore, cracked lips
  • Oral thrush
  • Hoarseness
  • Problems talking

Why do we need saliva?

Saliva is vital for our oral health; it’s our body’s natural defence against tooth decay. Produced by salivary glands, saliva washes away harmful acids produced by bacteria, plaque and acidic foods. It helps prevent fungal infections. Additionally and it also contains enzymes, lubricants and minerals such as calcium, phosphate and fluoride – which all help strengthen your tooth enamel.

In summary, saliva:

  • lubricates the mouth
  • moistened and breaks down food
  • washes away harmful sugars and acids caused by plaque and bacteria
  • remineralises the tooth enamel

What causes dry mouth?

Many conditions or medications can cause dry mouth, such as:

  • Diabetes
  • Lupus
  • Sjogren’s syndrome
  • Antihistamines
  • Antidepressants
  • Diuretics
  • Painkillers
  • Blood pressure medication
  • Decongestants

If you have dry mouth, speak to your medical or dental professional.

What can I do?

For seniors, a lack of saliva flow should not be considered ‘a normal part of ageing’. The role of ageing and salivary gland function is still unclear. However, we do know that the elderly often suffer more health problems and take more medications which may predispose them to a dry mouth.

As dentists, we want you to look after your dry mouth, as dry mouth can cause cavities and gum disease. If you have dry mouth, speak to your medical or dental professional. If your dry mouth is due to medications, they may suggest alternative options. And, if you’re dry mouth is caused by a medical condition, treating the condition may alleviate your symptoms.

In the meantime, here are some tips to relieve a dry mouth:
  • Chew sugar-free gum – this will stimulate saliva production
  • Sip water frequently throughout the day
  • Sip water with meals to make chewing and swallowing easier
  • Avoid mouth rinses containing peroxide or alcohol
  • Minimise alcohol consumption
  • Don’t smoke or chew tobacco products
  • Minimise the amount of tea and coffee you drink – caffeine can dry the mouth
  • Avoid salty or spicy foods as these may be painful for a dry mouth
  • Use ‘saliva substitute’ available from the chemist
  • Use a humidifier at night

How can I keep my teeth healthy?

In addition to taking steps to control your dry mouth, take extra care of your teeth to avoid cavities during this time by doing the following:

  • brush twice a day using a small, soft bristle toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste
  • floss once a day
  • Swish your mouth with water throughout the day
  • avoid acidic or sugary foods and beverages
  • maintain regular checkups with your dental professional

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Marketplace Dental is registered with all health funds and is a preferred provider with BUPA, HCF and Medibank Private.

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