Dry mouth, also known as Xerostomia refers to a condition in which the salivary glands in your mouth do not make enough saliva to keep your mouth wet.
Your salivary glands are responsible for saliva production and they include three major sets of glands and various minor ones.
Saliva, aside from keeping your mouth moist has many other uses which include:
Cleaning effect of washing away food debris after eating.
Antibacterial effect of fighting off bacteria entering the mouth
A lubricating effect that protects your inner mouth as well as easing swallowing.
Saliva reduces the acidity in some foods hence aiding in decay prevention.
Effect of promoting remineralisation of teeth.
Effect of protecting the tongue as a lubricant and developing the sense of taste.
Causes of a dry mouth
Dry mouth can occur in any age group but it is more common among older adults. There are various causes of dry mouth. These include:
Being dehydrated. Remember that saliva is composed mainly of water (over 98 per cent).
Certain medications such as antidepressants, muscle relaxants, some pain medications among others.
Cancer therapy can also contribute to dry mouth especially if radiations are directed to the head.
Damage to nerves that supply your head and neck region can alter saliva production in some cases.
People who take alcohol, tobacco and other recreational drugs such as marijuana are more likely to have a dry mouth.
Dry mouth can be a sign of another underlying condition such as HIV/Aids, diabetes, stroke among others.
Mouth breathers are more likely to have a dry mouth.
A dry mouth can manifest if the salivary glands have been surgically removed.
Anxiety and stress can also contribute to dry mouth.
Symptoms of dry mouth
Aside from the obvious discomfort, dry mouth can also produce the following signs/symptoms
Cracked lips, bad breath (halitosis), dryness or a feeling of stickiness in your mouth and saliva that seems thick and stringy. Others are difficulty chewing, speaking and swallowing, dry or sore throat and hoarseness , dry or grooved tongue and a changed sense of taste. Also , if someone wears dentures, it could become problematic to wear them.
How dry mouth might affect you
Since the production of saliva has been compromised, dry mouth can have negative impacts on your oral health and overall health. This can include the following;
An increase in dental plaque; plaque can cause a higher risk for dental decay and gum disease.
Dry mouth can increase chances of getting mouth sores
Dry mouth can increase chances of getting oral thrush (a yeast infection)
Due to discomfort during eating, one may actually get malnourished.
Split skin at the corners of your mouth.
Dr Emmanuel Kaayabula is a dental surgeon working with Pan Dental Surgery.