Xerostomia (dry mouth)

Xerostomia, also known as dry mouth, is a condition that is often, but not always, the result of insufficient saliva production. In addition to being uncomfortable, xerostomia may have a negative impact on quality of life since it may also be accompanied by chewing and swallowing difficulties as well as bad breath.

Without enough saliva to protect the teeth from bacteria in the mouth, individuals with xerostomia are at a higher risk for tooth decay.

Causes and triggers

Xerostomia can occur at any age, but tends to be more prevalent in elderly individuals and menopausal women. It can be the result of numerous factors, including:

  • Certain medications
  • Radiation treatments
  • Sjögren syndrome
  • Smoking
  • Mouth breathing
  • Alcohol use

Treatment

Treatment usually involves eliminating the issue responsible for causing xerostomia, if applicable. If a certain medication is found to be the cause, your healthcare professional may simply change your medication.

When eliminating the underlying cause is not possible, measures aimed at treating the symptoms associated with xerostomia can be taken:

  • Sip small amounts of water regularly.
  • Moisten your mouth by sucking on ice.
  • Avoid salty or spicy foods.
  • Avoid alcohol and cigarettes.
  • Chew sugar-free gum or suck on sugar-free candies to stimulate saliva secretion.
  • Make sure the humidity level in the room is between 40% and 50%. Use a humidifier if necessary.

Spray (e.g., Moi-stir, Mouth Kote) or gel (e.g., Biotene) saliva substitutes may help improve comfort. Over-the-counter products that stimulate saliva production (e.g., X-PUR 100% xylitol, XyliMelts) are also available.

Oral hygiene is important when it comes to preventing tooth decay and oral infections associated with xerostomia:

  • Brush teeth at least twice a day with a soft bristle brush.
  • Use a mouthwash that does not contain alcohol.
  • See your dentist regularly.
  • Avoid sugary and sticky foods, as well as soft drinks.
  • Remove dentures before bed.

When should I see a medical professional?

  • If you have symptoms suggestive of an oral infection (e.g., swelling, pain).
  • If you think you may have a cavity or sores in your mouth.
  • If over-the-counter treatments are not effective.

For more information:

Canadian Dental Hygienists Association

www.dentalhygienecanada.ca

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