A sticky, pasty mouth is anything but comfortable. ‘People with dry mouth will tell you it really decreases their quality of life,’ says Dr. Anthony Iacopino, dean of the University of Manitoba’s faculty of dentistry. Dry mouth (xerostomia) gives you bad breath, a sore throat, burning tongue and constant thirst.
Another complication? ‘Without saliva, you’re more prone to tooth decay and periodontal disease,’ says Iacopino. ‘Saliva has antibacterial components, and it buffers the acid that is produced by bacteria.’
A common cause of xerostomia is over-the-counter and prescription medications; hundreds of them list it as a side effect. Dry mouth also goes hand in hand with conditions such as diabetes or arthritis. Injury, surgery or radiation treatments for head or neck cancer, as well as chemotherapy, can damage the salivary gland nerves. And smoking? As if another reason were needed to get you to quit, it can make your mouth feel like a sandpit.
Advice for coping
Strategies like sucking on sugar-free candy or chewing sugar-free gum will increase saliva flow. You can also keep your mouth moist by drinking lots of water and using a humidifier in your bedroom. You can buy sprays, oral rinses and toothpastes at the drugstore that are specifically for treating the condition. These aren’t permanent solutions, though. If the problem is ongoing, speak with your dentist: You may need a medication (pilocarpine) to stimulate the salivary glands.
Make a habit of breathing through your nose instead of your mouth, and quit smoking. If you take OTC medications and suspect they are causing your dry mouth, ask your pharmacist. If you suspect it’s a prescription medication that’s causing the problem, talk to your doctor: It might be possible to reduce the dosage or switch medications.
‘People with dry mouth need to see their dentist more frequently, to check for decay on teeth along the gum line,’ adds Iacopino. By brushing twice a day with fluoride toothpaste, using a fluoride mouth rinse and flossing daily, you’ll help keep decay at bay.