Explained: Why We Get 'Dry Mouth'

Chronic dry mouth can be a problem, as it can affect your teeth and gums, which, if you've read my blog before, can have a drastic impact on your overall health.
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"You know when your mouth a-gettin' dry, you're plenty high"
-- George Thorogood; One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer

Ok, this isn't a post about drinking one bourbon, one scotch and one beer (a great old blues song, by the way ... I credit Thorogood with that line above, because that's the version most people have heard, but it was also performed by Amos Milburn and John Lee Hooker).

We will mention alcohol a bit later in this post, but as you likely already guessed, yes, this is a post about Dry Mouth, an affliction which affects millions of people.

To begin, the medical term for dry mouth is Xerostomia, although most of us would simply like to refer to it as Dry Mouth. The symptoms for dry mouth are, well, a dry mouth. There's really nothing tricky about it -- your mouth becomes devoid of the usual amount of saliva and gets dry.

The Negative Effects of Dry Mouth

Dry mouth would seem like more of a nuisance-type condition than anything else. And for many people, it is nothing more than that, but chronic dry mouth can be a problem, as it can affect your teeth and gums, which, if you've read my blog before, can have a drastic impact on your overall health.

Your saliva has several important jobs, starting with being the first step in digestion. Saliva also enhances taste and makes food easier to swallow. So it seems reasonable to say that a mouth devoid of saliva has a harder time eating. Saliva also washes away food particles from teeth and limits the growth of mouth bacteria. Obviously, this can lead to all manner of oral problems, from cavities to halitosis (bad breath) to gum disease. As a NYC Cosmetic Dentist, I see this all the time. So yes, chronic dry mouth is an issue.

What causes dry mouth?

There are several causes of dry mouth. Drinking alcohol, especially in any kind of quantity, will definitely give you dry mouth. Have you ever gone to bed after drinking a solid amount of booze? You woke up with severe dry mouth, didn't you? Some recreational drugs will do the same.

However, these are temporary causes and can be easily remedied by either not partaking in the activities, or by keeping yourself hydrated as you drink (staggering one glass of water with one drink works pretty well -- it'll also help you keep your wits a lot longer.)

But there are a few other causes of dry mouth which are not so easy to avoid. I'll go over a few of the more common ones here:

Medication Side Effects: This is the most common cause of chronic dry mouth. Many, many medications list dry mouth as a side effect, and if you listen carefully to TV commercials where the announcer talks really fast as they mention the side effects, dry mouth is almost always somewhere in there. Heart medications, anxiety medications and allergy medications are all popular ones, and many cancer treatments also cause dry mouth. The cure for this is to talk to your doctor and perhaps get a different prescription, or have your dose altered (if possible). The one problem here is many of these medications are "lifetime medications," so one may have a difficult choice -- go without the medication or have dry mouth. Even as a dentist, I can say that's a pretty easy choice to make. The meds win.

Sjögren's syndrome: Also known as Mikulicz Disease or Sicca Syndrome, this is an autoimmune disease that attacks the glands that make saliva and tears. There is no known cure, so most therapies are targeted at treating symptoms. In the case of dry mouth, increased dental visits and at-home fluoride treatments to strengthen enamel are paramount. However, the "teeth" part is often overlooked, and sadly, there are instances where the only effective treatment might be to remove one's teeth and replace them with implants or similar.

Mouth Breathing: Breathing more through your mouth than your nose is a common affliction for many, and the information I can give on it can probably fill an entire post. But for here, we'll just say that breathing through one's mouth will definitely cause dry mouth. The causes of mouth breathing are widespread but usually involve some issue with the nasal passages or adenoids.

Certain Diseases: Some diseases, like Diabetes and Parkinson's disease, list dry mouth as a symptom. This isn't to say if your mouth is dry you have these, but it's worth noting.

If you suffer from dry mouth and do not know why, talk to your doctor or dentist and try to get to the bottom of it. It could be an anxiety med, and switching to another might solve the issue. Or the cause of the dry mouth could be deeper and finding out the cause could be a lifesaver. Or maybe your dentist tells you to simply drink a glass of water with your booze!

Until next time, keep smiling!

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