What chronic dry mouth might mean

Dry mouth syndrome is when insufficient saliva is produced in the mouth and, according to Better Health, 25 per cent of older people have it. It may be caused by a number of different factors, and while it is not a disease, it can be the symptom to an underlying issue.

Along with helping us taste, swallow and digest food, saliva is important for our oral health as it helps to clean our mouths, attacks bacteria and viruses, and neutralises acids. The symptoms underlying dry mouth syndrome interrupt the ability of saliva to perform these tasks.

The symptoms of dry mouth syndrome manifest through problems in chewing and swallowing food, having thicker saliva, dry or cracking lips, small sores forming on the lips at the corners of the mouth, and the sensation of a dry tongue that sticks to the roof of the mouth. Having bad breath, ulcers, a burning sensation in the mouth and a high rate of tooth decay are also signs. As saliva helps to create suction between dentures and gum tissue, having loose acrylic dentures can also be a sign of dry mouth syndrome.

Dry mouth syndrome may even impact other parts of the body, causing coughing, a reduced ability to taste and smell, dry eyes, nose or throat, stiffness of joint, constipation or frequent oral or vaginal thrush infections.  

The syndrome is caused by a wide range of factors that include lifestyle, illness and medication. Sjogren’s syndrome, for example, is an autoimmune disease that attacks saliva-making glands, and is a common cause of dry mouth syndrome.

However, short-term infections in the glands can cause inflammation that disrupts saliva production. There are also around six hundred medications, including sedatives, antihistamines, decongestants, high blood pressure medications and antidepressants that are known to cause dry mouth syndrome.

Further, the syndrome may also be linked to a series of serious illnesses including diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, cerebral palsy, amyloidosis, AIDS, primary biliary cirrhosis and lupus. It can also be caused by a series of other factors including facial nerve damage, dehydration, breathing predominantly through the mouth, menopausal hormonal change, chemotherapy or radiology of the neck or head, and obstruction of the saliva ducts.

If you suffer from dry mouth syndrome, don’t despair. It is generally treatable with medical assistance. However, the nature of treatment may change depending on the cause. Treatment may include a change in medication, the use of dry mouth products or saliva substitutes, antibiotics or even surgery in extreme cases. To seek treatment, visit your GP to find out what options are best for you.

To ease dry mouth symptoms in the meantime, it helps to increase water intake, chew on sugar-free gum or lollies and avoid cigarettes, crunchy food and acidic, caffeinated or sugary foods and drinks. Also, visit the dentist regularly, floss daily and use products that contain fluoride to help maintain oral health.

Have you had or known someone who had dry mouth syndrome?

Written by Liv Gardiner

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