Dry mouth is also known as xerostomia (pronounced zer-roe-STO-me-a). It is caused by the insufficient production of saliva in the mouth.Saliva is produced by the salivary glands and the mucous membranes that line the mouth. It is a watery fluid made up of enzymes, proteins and minerals such as sodium and calcium. It also contains urea, white blood cells and other material from inside the mouth. Saliva keeps the mouth moist, lubricates food to make swallowing easier and neutralises acidic food and drink which can attack tooth enamel (the hard coating which protects teeth).Lack of saliva in the mouth can affect speech, swallowing, taste and chewing. If left untreated a dry mouth can lead to gum disease, tooth decay, oral infections and bad breath (halitosis). Because the mouth is dry it can also make it uncomfortable to wear false teeth (dentures).

Causes

  • medical conditions - the following medical conditions can all cause a dry mouth: thyroid disorders, Sj┼'gren's syndrome, sarcoidosis, depression, poorly controlled diabetes mellitus and cystic fibrosismedicines. t aking certain medicines can cause a dry mouth, especially water tablets (diuretics), medicines to treat high blood pressure, antihistamines, medicines to relieve muscle spasm (anti-spasmodics) and some antidepressants. Possible side effects should be listed on the label, packaging or information leaflet of all medicines. If you think a medicine you are taking may be causing your dry mouth, mention it to your doctor
  • medical treatment. A dry mouth can also develop following radiotherapy treatments to the head and neck, especially if the salivary glands have been within the radioactive field

Avoiding Dry Mouth

To avoid dehydration, it is important to drink plenty of water or soft drinks (about four pints each day). Drinks containing caffeine such as tea and coffee have a mild diuretic effect which means that they make you lose fluid by increasing your urine output. However, as long as you drink them regularly and at normal strengths, these drinks will still contribute to your water intake. You should avoid drinks containing sugar as these can cause dental decay, especially if the mouth is dry.Keep your lips well moisturised to stop them drying out. Many creams are available from your pharmacy, ask your pharmacist for advice.

Dry atmospheres can make a dry mouth worse so try increasing the humidity inside your home by using a cool or hot mist vaporiser, particularly at night. You can achieve the same effect by placing a bowl of water or wet towel on a radiator but ensure the central heating is turned down low because heat will also dry out the atmosphere.

Treatment

There are many ways you can help to relieve a dry mouth. You could try chewing sugar free chewing gum or pastilles, sucking ice cubes, regularly sipping water or your doctor could prescribe an artificial saliva product.It is important to brush your teeth thoroughly each morning and especially at night. Less saliva is produced at night so the mouth becomes drier and more prone to the growth of harmful bacteria. This can lead to dental decay and infections.

It is important to visit your dentist regularly to ensure that your teeth are kept clean and to avoid any problems with your teeth and mouth.

When To See A Doctor

If your dry mouth does not improve or if it is causing you discomfort or irritation, make an appointment at your surgery. Your doctor will be able to advise you and may prescribe an artificial saliva product if necessary.

If you think a medicine you are taking may be causing a dry mouth, mention it to your doctor. An alternative medicine may be available.

Additional Information

Additional information about oral care is available from the British Dental Health Foundation. Tel: 01788 546365. Website address: www.dentalhealth.org.uk <http://www.dentalhealth.org.uk>.

Leaflets about bad breath and mouth ulcers are also available from this pharmacy.