Xerostomia (zeer-o-STOE-me-uh) is often referred to as the dry mouth syndrome. Have you ever woken up in the middle of the night to a dry mouth and yearn for a class of water? Well, xerostomia is like that feeling of having a dry mouth, only more persistent. The meaning literally stems from the Greek words xeros and stoma, which mean “dry” and “mouth”. Xerostomia occurs when your mouth does not produce enough saliva. Xerostomia is a common symptom among the US population and at least 50% of the population has had it at least once in their lifetime.
Signs and Symptoms
Regardless of what you may think of when you hear the word “dry mouth”, these are the most common signs and symptoms associated with xerostomia.
- Dryness in your mouth
- Bad Breath
- Difficulty eating, chewing, swallowing or speaking
- Dental problems
- Thick saliva
- Frequent thirst
- Stickiness in your mouth
- Sore throat
- Dry or sore tongue
- Red bumps or cold sores in your mouth
You may be wondering, what causes xerostomia to occur. One of the biggest causes for dry mouth is the use of certain medications such as diuretics, antihistamines, bronchodilators and anxiety medication. Whether a medication has been prescribed to you or you are taking it illegally, certain medications will leave you with a horrible cottony feeling in your mouth.
Some of the other causes are from diseases such as Parkinson’s, mouth cancer, diabetes, HIV/AIDS, anemia, rheumatoid arthritis and Sjogren’s syndrome. For those battling cancer, especially mouth cancer, xerostomia becomes worse with the use of radiation and chemotherapy. The use of tobacco and drugs such as methamphetamine, can increase your chance of having a reoccurring case of dry mouth. While xerostomia is often seen in adults, infants and children can be diagnosed with xerostomia.
One of the easiest ways for a doctor to confirm a diagnosis is by testing the salivary flow. A test such as sialometry is done by taking a sample of a person’s saliva and testing it for a flow rate of saliva by mixing it with citric acid. This test is not harmful and it completely safe to use on anyone. Another way to diagnosis xerostomia is through sialography, which is a radiographic exam of the salivary glands. For more severe cases, additional tests such as ultrasounds, chest x-rays, MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) and a salivary gland biopsy may be done to see the extensiveness of xerostomia.
Once you have been officially diagnosed with xerostomia, your doctor may prescribe medication to relieve the discomfort or pain. Medications may be prescribed, such as Salagen and SalviaMax help increase the saliva in your mouth. Decreased salvia leads to more bacterial and fungal infections, so it is important not to push your symptoms to the side.
Salvia stimulants such sugar-free gum, Physostigmine gel and lozenges also help naturally increase the flow of saliva. For people who are also suffering from dental problems while having xerostomia, they should use the Biotene Oral Balance toothpaste because it is known to reduce the symptoms of “cottonmouth”. Below are some tips to help relieve the uncomfortableness of xerostomia while receiving treatment.
- Drink water
- Breathe through your nose
- Avoid sugary foods
- Use a room vaporizer
When it comes to preventing xerostomia from sparking back up in your mouth, the following are some tips to utilize for the future.
- Always brush your teeth, gums and use mouthwash
- Do not share a toothbrush with anyone
- Avoid the use of illegal drugs
- Maintain a nutritional diet
- Avoid contact with anyone with cold sores or thrush (yeast infection in your mouth)
- Drink plenty of fluids
- Do not smoke
After reading this, please do not take it upon yourself to auto-diagnose your problem. Talk to your doctor about any symptoms or signs that you have been having. Just remember, don’t think you have xerostomia just because you have bad breath or think that just because you have little to no symptoms that you shouldn’t talk to a doctor. Each case is different, just recognize the symptoms and ask for professional help when needed.