Dry mouth or xerostomia is the subjective feeling of having a dry mouth. This is a common reason for complaints, especially among older people. It is often associated with a decrease in salivary secretion due to a malfunction of the salivary glands, but it can also be a consequence of changes in the composition of the saliva.
Between 22% and 26% of the healthy population suffer from dry mouth, the most common cause being the use of drugs.
Causes of dry mouth
Salivary secretion can be affected by multiple factors. The main causes of this reduction in salivary flow are the consumption of certain drugs (anticholinergics, antihistamines, antihypertensives, anxiolytics, antidepressants, and antipsychotics), radiation therapy in the head and neck area, psychological disorders such as anxiety and depression, and systemic diseases such as Sjögren's syndrome, an autoimmune, inflammatory and chronic disease that causes decreased glandular secretion.
Consequences of dry mouth
Saliva has multiple functions including cleaning the oral cavity, an antimicrobial action, maintaining the integrity of the mucosa, the ability to neutralise pH and prevent the demineralisation of the teeth.
Dry mouth is a major problem for those suffering from it and it can cause recurrent fungal infections (candidiasis), mucositis, taste disorders, difficulty swallowing or speaking, halitosis or a burning mouth feeling. The lack of salivary secretion also increases the risk of tooth decay and may lead to the appearance of new lesions or the worsening of existing ones.
Treatment for dry mouth
The treatment for dry mouth or xerostomia aims to increase the salivary flow when possible, as well as reducing symptoms and preventing dental conditions that are secondary to the lack of salivary secretion, such as tooth decay, halitosis or gum disease. There are different products that improve the symptoms of xerostomia and have a preventive effect on secondary diseases that may appear. The most widely used are saliva substitutes or stimulants in the form of a dry mouth spray. These products can incorporate moisturising agents, such as hyaluronic acid and/or ingredients that reduce the risk of tooth decay, such as fluorine or xylitol.
Hyaluronic acid is a natural high weight molecular mucopolysaccharide, an essential component of the connective tissue of the oral mucosa, which acts physiologically as a barrier, providing stability and elasticity. It is highly viscous and lubricant, adhering to the mucosa and, due to its great capacity to retain water (even 50 times its own volume), causes the humidification to last.
Tips for dry mouth care
The following tips can help reduce the discomfort associated with dry mouth:
- Brush your teeth with toothpaste for two minutes twice a day, once before going to bed. To avoid aggressive brushing that aggravates possible erosions, it is important to use the correct technique and a soft brush.
- Use substitute products and/or stimulants for saliva whenever necessary.
- Drink about two litres of liquid a day, in the form of water, milk or infusions without sugar.
- Use sugar-free chewing gum or eat sugar-free sweets with strong flavours that stimulate saliva production.
- Avoid tobacco, alcohol and caffeine, and dry environments, such as intense air conditioning or heating. Using a humidifier in the room at night is also recommended.
- Do some form of physical exercise regularly to combat stress.
- Visit the dentist to determine the origin of dry mouth and the most appropriate treatment.