Xerostomia ( Dry Mouth )
Do you feel you have less saliva than you've had in the past?
Does your mouth feel dry at mealtime? Do you have trouble eating dry foods? Is
swallowing difficult? Do you need to moisten your mouth often or sip liquids
If you answer yes, you are one of many people who suffer from
xerostomia ( "zero-stoh'-me-a).
Even though xerostomia is not a disease, it can be a symptom of
certain diseases. Xerostomia can result from medical treatment or as a side
effect of many medications. Many times xerostomia is caused by failure of the
salivary glands to function normally, but the sensation can also occur in people
with normal salivary glands.
Xerostomia can cause health problems by affecting nutrition as well as
psychological health. It can contribute to and increase the chances of
contracting tooth decay and mouth infections.
Saliva has important functions. Everyone needs saliva to:
Wash away food debris and plaque from the teeth to help
Limit the growth of bacteria that cause tooth decay and
other mouth infections.
Bathe the teeth and supply minerals that allow
remineralization of early cavities.
Lubricate foods so they may be swallowed more easily.
Providing enzymes that aid in digestion.
Help us enjoy foods by aiding in the "tasting"
Moisten the skin inside the mouth to make chewing and
Xerostomia can be caused by:
Medications - Several hundred current medications can cause
xerostomia. The major drug groups are antihypertensives and antidepressants.
Analgesics, tranquilizers, diuretics, and antihistamines can also cause dry
Cancer Therapy - Chemotherapeutic drugs can change the flow
and composition of the saliva. Radiation treatment that is focused on or
near the salivary gland can temporarily or permanently damage the salivary
Sjogren's syndrome, an autoimmune disease, causes xerostomia
and dry eyes.
Other conditions such as bone marrow transplants, endocrine
disorders, stress, anxiety, depression, and nutritional deficiencies may
Nerve Damage - Trauma to the head and neck area from surgery
or wounds can damage the nerves that supply sensation to the mouth. While
the salivary glands may be left intact, they cannot function normally
without the nerves that signal them to produce saliva.
Conditions like Alzheimer's disease or stroke may change the
ability to perceive oral sensations.
If you suspect you have xerostomia, I would recommend you visit
your dentist or physician to determine the cause. If you know the cause, relief
may be found from several sources. Saliva substitutes are available to moisten
and lubricate the mouth. Sugarless hard candies may be helpful in stimulating
saliva flow. Medications may be added, changed, or dosages altered to provide
increased salivary flow. Two new drugs Salagen
offer much promise in alleviating xerostomia.