Dry mouth can be a problem

June 24, 2019

Derek is a 54-year-old man who asks Check Up why his mouth always feels so dry re cently. He drinks a lot of water every day, but this doesn't seem to help much. Both his lips and tongue feel dry, and his spit feels thick also. He hopes that Check Up can help out by indicating what could be the cause.

Dry mouth (xerostomia) is a condition where the salivary glands in the mouth don't make enough saliva to keep the mouth properly moist. This is a problem because saliva helps to prevent tooth decay, limits the growth of germs in the mouth and helps with swallowing and removing food particles from the mouth, while enzymes present in saliva help in beginning the digestion of food.

Dry mouth most often occurs as a side effect of medications which are being used by the person. It can also occur as a result of cancer radiation treatment or as a direct disorder of the salivary glands.

When saliva production is low, several symptoms occur, including:

n Dryness and stickiness in the mouth.

n Thick saliva.

n Dry or sore throat and hoarseness.

n Dry, grooved tongue.

n Bad breath.

n Change in sense of taste.

n Increased need to drink liquids.

n Problems with wearing dentures.

n Lipstick sticking to the teeth.

Hundreds of medications bought by prescription as well as over-the-counter medications are associated with causing dry mouth. These include antihistamines and decongestants used to treat allergies and sinus congestion, many anti-anxiety and antidepressant medications, muscle relaxants and painkillers, as well as some medications used in the treatment of high blood pressure.

Cancer treatment can dry out your mouth. Chemotherapy does it temporarily while using the drugs.

Many older people experience dry mouth as the years pass. This can be due to chronic health problems or to the medications used to treat them or poor nutrition.

Health conditions which can cause dry mouth include diabetes, stroke, Alzheimer's disease, autoimmune diseases or even HIV.

Dry mouth will cause:

n Mouth sores.

n Tooth decay, with increased plaque formation.

n Gum disease.

n Cracked lips and split skin at the mouth corners.

n Oral yeast infection thrush

n Difficulty chewing and swallowing.

n Poor nutrition.


Derek, check on the side effects of all medications which you might be using. All of them, both over-the-counter as well as prescribed drugs. Meds are a very common cause of dry mouth. Check with your doctor to find substitute for medications if any are identified.

n Avoid caffeine, alcohol and tobacco, which remove mouth moisture.

n Suck on ice chips throughout the day.

n Wash out the mouth with a non-alcohol-based mouthwash

n Apply Glycerine as an oral lubricant to the mouth, tongue, gums and lips at intervals.

n Moisturise the lips with Vaseline or lip balm.

n Chew sugar-free gum to stimulate saliva flow.

n The ear nose and throat surgeons may be able to prescribe medications which will increase the flow of saliva.

Of course, how well dry mouth can be resolved will depend on its cause. Some are easily resolved, while others causes will require time. Visit your general practitioner, who will decide what needs to be done and if you need referral to any specialist at all.

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