Xerostomia, or dry mouth, is a common dental problem that can lead to an increased risk of tooth decay, bad breath, mouth sores, candidiasis (yeast infection), and problems with digestion. Dry mouth can have many causes including medication interactions, systemic diseases, radiation treatment, dehydration, vitamin deficiencies, panic disorder, and alcohol abuse.
Many common prescription medications can affect saliva production. Some of the most common medications that do this are diuretics, which are usually used to treat high blood pressure, antidepressants, and antihistamines. If you are experiencing dry mouth and are taking a prescription medication, talk to your doctor about switching medications. Do not discontinue any prescription medication without your doctor’s approval.
Systemic diseases can cause dry mouth, including diabetes and an autoimmune disease called Sjogren’s Syndrome. Dry mouth can be an early warning sign in both of these conditions, so a visit to your doctor for a diagnosis should be scheduled early.
Radiation treatment to the head and neck area can kill fragile salivary glands, leaving tissues of the mouth dry and irritated. Most radiologists will warn patients of this side effect before treatment has begun. Once these glands are damaged from radiation treatment, a lifelong regimen of continuous dental care is necessary along with saliva replacement solutions to keep the mouth moist.
Dehydration from illness or loss of body fluids can cause temporary dry mouth conditions. Usually this can be overcome by drinking plenty of water or sports drinks when sick or exercising.
Vitamin deficiency can sometimes cause dry mouth if the condition is severe enough. For those with a poor diet, taking a vitamin supplement daily can decrease the chance of dry mouth and other conditions caused by insufficient vitamin intake.
Panic disorders are usually caused by acute attacks of fear. Panic disorders can begin with sweaty palms, rapid breathing, and dry mouth and continue to develop until the patient has an irregular heartbeat and is drenched in sweat. Medications to control panic disorders can also worsen dry mouth, though control of the disorder is usually the better option.
Regular users of alcohol often complain about chronic dry mouth. This is not only the case for those who drink alcohol, but those who habitually use mouthwash with a high alcohol content can exacerbate the dryness of the mouth and worsen bad breath.
Those who experience dry mouth conditions may have some relief available once doctors determine the cause. Even patients who can’t be cured can find some relief in over the counter medications and rinses that a personal physician or dentist can recommend.