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Xerostomia, more commonly known as dry mouth, is a significant condition affecting the oral cavity. It is a consequence of poorly functioning salivary glands. When there is not enough saliva in your mouth, it can be difficult to eat and speak properly. Saliva lubricates and protects your mouth and teeth, and a reduction in salivary flow can lead to an array of oral health problems.

There are numerous oral and systemic conditions that can cause changes in both the amount of saliva produced and the composition of the saliva. Local conditions affecting the oral cavity can cause salivary gland hyofunction. These include tumors, abnormalities of the salivary ducts, sialoliths (calculus build-up in the salivary ducts or glands), poorly developed salivary glands, and radiation damage following cancer treatment. In fact, xerostomia is the most common complication associated with radiation therapy to the head and neck. Systemic conditions affecting the entire body can also cause xerostomia. These include nerve damage, dehydration, sympathetic nervous system responses, hormonal imbalances (such as during pregnancy and menopause), inflammation caused by infection, and autoimmune diseases (such as Sjogren’s syndrome). There are numerous other conditions that can cause xerostomia. Some examples include anxiety, depression, bulimia, diabetes, thyroid disease, hypertension, lupus, cystic fibrosis, cerebral palsy, Bell’s palsy, endocrine disorders, scleroderma, and nutritional deficiencies.

Xerostomia is a common side effect of numerous prescription medications. In fact, more than 400 medications reportedly cause dry mouth. The most common xerostomia-inducing medications are antihypertensives, antidepressants, anticholinergics, antipsychotics, anorexiants, analgesics, decongestants, and bronchodilators. Others include statins, antianxiety agents, antiemetics, diuretics, skeletal muscle relaxants, amphetamines, and marijuana. Even over-the-counter antihistamines and cold remedies can cause dry mouth.

Saliva is an important lubricant for the mouth. It enables us to more easily chew and swallow our food without it sticking to the tissues in our mouth. It lubricates our mouth so we can speak properly, and it plays an essential role in our ability to taste foods. There are enzymes in saliva that begin the breakdown of food before it enters our digestive tract. There are also important antibodies and antimicrobial agents in saliva which protect our teeth from decay, our gums from periodontal disease, and our mouth from infections. Adequate salivary flow is a vital factor in maintaining a healthy oral cavity.

Are you suffering from dry mouth?

Here are some of the signs and symptoms suggestive of Xerostomia:

  • Having a dry mouth or throat, especially at night
  • Constantly licking lips, mouth feels sticky and dry
  • Lack of pooled saliva in the floor of the mouth
  • Difficulty chewing certain foods, especially those that are dry or spicy
  • Thick, “ropey” saliva
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Difficulty speaking
  • More frequent need to drink fluids
  • Hoarseness
  • Feeling of soreness or burning of the mouth and/or tongue
  • Cracking and fissures of the tongue and mucosa
  • Cracking at the corners of the mouth or the lips
  • Blisters and mouth sores
  • Pebbled, lobulated tongue
  • Shiny and red tongue and cheeks
  • Distortion of taste, food not tasting like it used to
  • Unusual or exaggerated awareness of the oral cavity
  • Waking up more frequently in the middle of the night
  • Dentures no longer stay in place
  • Bad breath (halitosis)
  • Increase in plaque levels around teeth
  • Increase incidence of tooth decay
  • Periodontal disease and tooth loss
  • Oral fungal infections
  • Salivary gland infections
    Xerostomia, if left undiagnosed and untreated, can lead to many serious complications in the oral cavity. Enamel demineralization, increased plaque levels, and a significant increase in the incident of decay are often seen in patients suffering from dry mouth. Other oral complications such as apthous ulcers (canker sores), halitosis (bad breath), reddened, fissured tongues, mucositis (inflammation of the oral mucosa), and cracked, bleeding tissues can occur. Decreased salivary flow predisposes the mouth to bacterial, viral, and fungal infections. Dry mouth also makes it difficult to chew, swallow, and taste, leading to poor nutrition.