Having adequate saliva is necessary to keep the mouth clean and to easily chew and swallow food. Furthermore, the enzymes found in saliva help make the digestion process more efficient. Apart from kickstarting digestion, saliva is also responsible for neutralizing acids released by bacteria which helps inhibit oral bacterial growth. Likewise, it improves one’s ability to taste food. But, in xerostomia (dry mouth) the salivary glands in the mouth are unable to produce sufficient amounts of saliva to keep the mouth moist. This can greatly impact not only one’s appetite but also one’s general well-being and oral health. Continue reading to know more about dry mouth, its symptoms, causes, and complications.
If one’s salivary glands aren’t making sufficient amounts of saliva, then they may project few or many of the following symptoms:
- Saliva that has a stringy and thick consistency
- Bad breath
- A feeling of stickiness or dryness in the mouth
- Trouble chewing, swallowing, or speaking
- A deteriorated sense of taste
- Dry or a sore throat
- Hoarse voice
- Issues while using dentures
If these symptoms have been persistent for weeks, then it is advised that one seeks their general physician’s counsel.
Causes of dry mouth
The function of the salivary glands could be impacted due to the following stated reasons:
- Medications– Consistent use of medications could trigger the side-effect of dry mouth. These include both over-the-counter (OTC) and prescribed varieties of medicines. Antihistamines; decongestants; pain relievers; muscle relaxants; and medications to treat depression, anxiety, and hypertension are most likely to cause dry mouth.
- Aging– Several elderly individuals experience dry mouth as they age. This occurs due to multiple factors including long-term health issues, use of certain types of medicines, changes in the body’s capacity to handle medications, and decreased nutritional intake.
- Cancer treatments– Chemotherapy can alter the quality and amount of saliva produced. Typically, this is a temporary phase, where normal function of glands is restored once the treatment is over. Apart from chemotherapy, radiation therapy directed in the head and neck can cause damage to the salivary glands, lowering its production levels. Depending on the radiation dose, frequency, and area treated, this treatment could have temporary or lasting consequences.
- Nerve damage– An injury or surgical procedure that has caused damage to the nerves located in the head or neck can lead to a dry mouth.
- Certain types of health disorders– Dry mouth in some cases can be a result of certain medical conditions such as diabetes, yeast infection in the mouth, HIV/AIDS, Alzheimer’s disease, Sjogren’s syndrome, and stroke. Sleeping habits such as breathing and snoring while leaving the mouth open can also cause dry mouth.
- Long-term consumption of alcohol and tobacco– Having alcohol or tobacco for an extensive period can eventually lead to dry mouth.
- Recreational drug use– Drugs such as methamphetamine can seriously damage the teeth and trigger the symptoms of dry mouth. Likewise, unrestrained and persistent use of marijuana is also known to cause this condition.
If left untreated, dry mouth can further lead to health complications such as mouth sores, yeast infection in the mouth, cracked lips and sores at the corners of the mouth, tooth decay, gum disease, and poor nutritional absorption due to chewing and swallowing problems.