What causes dry mouth?
There are many possible reasons people experience dry mouth resulting from the salivary glands not generating enough saliva. Some of the main causes can include medication, as well as mouth-breathing or snoring, autoimmune conditions, diabetes and radiotherapy treatment for head and neck cancer.
The number of medications being taken can also increase the risk of dry mouth and for this reason palliative care patients are often at increased risk of developing dry mouth.
Regardless of the cause, having a dry mouth can be extremely unpleasant to live with, mainly because it affects so many aspects of everyday life, including eating, speaking and oral hygiene.
What does saliva do?
Saliva has many important roles in supporting our overall health and wellbeing. Similar to something as automatic as breathing, it is often taken for granted until there is a problem with it functioning normally.
Saliva does so much more than just maintain moisture levels in our mouths!
Through the production of a unique combination of enzymes, saliva helps safeguard our oral health by protecting against acids and sugars present in the foods we eat. Saliva is our body’s natural defence against tooth decay, also helping to remove bacteria and food from our mouths.
Controlling the delicate balance of bacteria in our mouths through its anti-microbial properties, saliva helps maintain the health of mouth tissues including our tongues, lips, cheeks and gums.
Helping us swallow and digest food more easily, saliva even helps us taste our food and aids digestion.
How common is dry mouth?
Dry mouth is far more common than many people realise, partly due to being an unreported problem or misdiagnosed as a symptom of another medical condition. It currently affects one in four adults in the UK. The medical term for dry mouth is xerostomia.
Dry mouth can be particularly common in people with diabetes, autoimmune conditions and those receiving radiotherapy treatment for head and neck cancer.
What are the associated problems if dry mouth is left untreated?
Letting dry mouth go untreated can cause a great deal of discomfort and impair quality of life. Many people find they are unable to swallow certain foods without a drink or feel more thirsty than usual. They may often struggle to keep dentures in place when a mouth is dry.
If untreated, dry mouth can also lead to the following:
- Soreness and sensitivity of the lips and mouth
- Increased risk of tooth decay which could result in tooth loss
- Infections in the mouth
- Roughness and/or pain of the tongue (this can feel like dryness or burning)
- Mouth sores
- Bad breath
- Thick or sticky/stringy saliva
- Difficulty speaking
- Disturbed sleep
Are there any permanent treatments for dry mouth?
Many people try to relieve the symptoms of dry mouth by increasing their water intake, however this only provides very temporary relief and does not replace the important functions saliva provides.
If dry mouth is the result of medication(s) being taken, speaking with your doctor to either reduce or change your prescription may help.
Sadly, for some people there is no permanent cure for dry mouth, due to pre-existing medical conditions or treatment plans. The focus then shifts to managing dry mouth, to make everyday tasks like eating, socialising and maintaining oral health, easier.
How can I reduce the effects of dry mouth?
Whether dry mouth can be permanently treated or requires regular management, there are lifestyle interventions recommended by NHS Choices to help reduce the impact. These include:
- Chewing on sugar-free sweets or chewing gum to stimulate the salivary glands
- Sucking ice cubes to release moisture slowly into your mouth
- Avoiding alcohol, smoking and caffeine, all of which can aggravate dry mouth
There are also specially developed products to help supplement saliva and rebalance the mouth which can either be prescribed by your doctor or purchased over the counter.
Dry mouth prevents me from getting a good night’s sleep—is there anything I can do to help?
Although increasing water intake in the evenings and taking a drink to bed may seem like an effective preventative measure for dry mouth, it only provides very temporary relief. It can also result in a disturbed night’s sleep due to the need for frequent visits to the loo!
People who snore or who use a CPAP machine when sleeping can also find their mouth becomes dry and may take a glass of water to bed each night in an effort to alleviate the feeling of dryness.
Avoiding caffeine and alcohol in the evenings, in addition to using specialist supplementary saliva products, may help provide effective and lasting relief from a dry mouth.
Are dry lips related to dry mouth?
Yes! Cracked and dry lips are caused by insufficient moisture around the mouth area and can be particularly problematic if dry mouth goes untreated. Some people find the skin splits at the corners of their lips which can cause further discomfort.
People with dry mouth may also find that lipstick sticks to their teeth as a result of the dryness.
Seeking support from your doctor or dentist to manage dry mouth may help resolve ongoing dryness and cracking of the lips.
Why does dry mouth cause bad breath?
When our saliva production is working normally, it has a natural cleansing action, helping to remove food and bacteria from your mouth. Without enough saliva, this cleansing action is hindered and can result in bad breath (also referred to as halitosis).
Stimulating saliva production with lifestyle interventions and supplementary products, in addition to practising good oral hygiene routines, may help.
If in doubt, always ask your doctor or dentist for support.
Designed to help provide effective and lasting relief from the symptoms of dry mouth, Oralieve® products contain a special balance of bioactive ingredients and enzymes to supplement saliva’s natural properties. Tested with dry mouth sufferers, Oralieve® Dry Mouth Relief products are free from alcohol and SLS – ingredients which can cause irritation for dry mouths. Ranging from toothpastes to mouth gels and sprays, Oralieve® products can be used frequently throughout the day to compliment existing oral hygiene routines.
For more information about Oralieve® products or to request a sample, visit www.oralieve.co.uk