Recognizing Symptoms of Xerostomia

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Young woman drinking a glass of water

Dry mouth is an annoying dental issue that millions of patients suffer from each year. Dry mouth, or xerostomia, occurs when the mouth doesn’t produce enough saliva to keep it wet and moist. Other symptoms include difficulty eating, sticky saliva and cavities, all of which negatively affect oral health. However, dry mouth is relatively easy to treat and can be remedied by using prescription mouthwash, changing medications and treating autoimmune diseases, like Sjogren’s syndrome. Find out how you can recognize the symptoms of dry mouth and what to do to treat it with these tips!


The Importance of Saliva

When studying the mouth, most people look to the teeth, tongue and gums as the major components that help the mouth function. While these parts are essential for chewing and speaking, saliva is one of the least mentioned but very important element that aids in digestion, chewing and swallowing. Saliva performs many functions, but first and foremost it’s the mouth’s primary defense against tooth decay and helps wash away acid-producing bacteria that develops from leftover food. It also helps maintain the soft and hard tissues of the mouth by keeping them healthy, while supplying disease-fighting substances to prevent decay. Unfortunately, there are some patients who don’t produce enough saliva in their mouths, leading them to experience periods of dry mouth. Although saliva production levels aren’t always 100% manageable, it’s important to understand what dry mouth is, how to recognize it and what you can do to neutralize it.


What Is Dry Mouth?

Dry mouth, or xerostomia, is a condition in which the salivary glands don’t produce enough saliva to keep the mouth wet and moist. These glands may not function properly due to a variety of factors, such as age, medication use, nerve damage and recreational alcohol and drug use. To begin, it is very common to see elderly people who suffer from dry mouth. As we age, our bodies’ ability to process medication inhibits saliva production while long-term health conditions and nutritional deficiencies can enhance the likelihood of xerostomia. Medications that treat depression, anxiety, pain and high blood pressure also have a common side effect of dry mouth, which can be remedied by altering the dosage or switching medications. Some muscle relaxants and decongestants are also known to cause dry mouth, as well. Nerve damage to the head or neck can result in dry mouth, and overusing drugs or alcohol can increase dry mouth symptoms, especially if it involves methamphetamine or marijuana. Patients suffering from Sjogren’s Syndrome are also at a higher likelihood of experiencing dry mouth, as the autoimmune disease mistakenly attacks the body’s own moisture-producing glands.


Dry mouth can range from being a nuisance to negatively impacting the health of your teeth and gums, leading to decay and a change in appetite. Whether you take a certain medication, have a specific health condition or use drugs and/or alcohol, your body will most likely have varying levels of dry mouth in comparison to others in a similar situation. For this reason, it’s always a good idea to be able to recognize the symptoms of dry mouth so that you can properly treat them.


Signs of Xerostomia

Child pursing lips that are cracked and dry from xerostomia

While it may seem obvious what the most common sign of dry mouth is, there are other symptoms that may not seem like they’re affecting your oral health at all. For one, saliva that seems thick or stringy and a dry tongue are strong signs of dry mouth. Difficulty chewing or swallowing and a sore throat are often symptoms of illness, but can also be consequences of xerostomia, as well. If you’re experiencing bad breath throughout the day or experiencing a changed sense of taste, those can be more subtle signs that something else is going on.


There are also dental complications that can occur due to dry mouth, even when patients don’t feel like their mouths are dry at all. Since there is a lack of saliva, teeth are at a higher risk for tooth decay because there isn’t anything washing away food particles and bacteria. Because of this, patients with dry mouth will typically have more tooth decay and cavities than patients who don’t. Thrush, or a yeast infection of the mouth, is also common in patients with dry mouth since there is no cleansing liquid that keeps the mouth sanitary. Mouth sores, cracked lips or split skin around the corners of the mouth all indicate dry mouth, not just dry skin. It’s important to note that these common conditions can be experienced with many illnesses or by being in a dry climate, and if you do have a few of them, it doesn’t explicitly imply that you have dry mouth. Once any of these issues appear, though, it’s always a good idea to meet with your dentist so that they can diagnose your symptoms and begin a treatment plan for you.


What To Expect At Your Next Checkup

One of the first steps you should take if you’re fairly sure that you have xerostomia is visiting with a medical professional, like a dentist. By scheduling a dental checkup, you can receive a thorough consultation and examination where your dentist will examine your mouth and review your medical history. This process will help him/her identify any underlying issues that are causing your dry mouth and influence what plan of action is developed to treat your symptoms. Your dentist may recommend a change in what medications you’re taking or prescribe you a mouthwash that specializes in treating dry mouth.


To schedule your next checkup, call Stonebrook Family Dental at (303) 872-7907! Our team is dedicated to your oral health needs and we want to help you get the beautiful, healthy smile that you deserve. Call today!

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