Xerostomia, commonly understood as dry mouth, is a health condition when the mouth often becomes dry. This happens because the salivary glands are not able to produce enough saliva to constantly keep the mouth wet. Xerostomia symptoms can occur due to side effects of any medication that you have been taking regular doses of or because of ageing. Radiation therapy for cancer treatment can also cause dry mouth to occur. Rarely, dry mouth may also be caused by a condition that may directly affect salivary glands. To understand the reasons behind Xerostomia, let us first explore the importance of saliva.
Why is Saliva Important?
- Bacteria in our mouth produce acid that may erode the tooth enamel. Saliva helps neutralise the acid and may prevent tooth decay.
- Saliva has an important role to play in washing away tiny food particles stuck in between teeth and also limits bacterial growth inside the mouth.
- Our ability to taste food – sweet, sour, salty or bitter, is heavily enhanced by saliva. It helps us easily chew and swallow our food, making larger particles break down for easy digestion.
- Saliva contains a special enzyme that helps in digesting food. This enzyme helps digest the starch in our food. The enzyme is called amylase which helps break down starch into simple sugars that can easily be digested by our stomach.
- Another enzyme called lingual lipase, present in our saliva, helps break down fatty compounds in the food so that it can smoothly be digested.
- Having less saliva will have a huge impact on the health of teeth and cause major dental problems. It will also reduce your appetite and alter the taste of food.
Causes of Sudden Dry Mouth
If you notice you are experiencing dry mouth, you may also notice some of the following Xerostomia causes with associated symptoms such as:
- Thick and stringy saliva difficult to swallow
- Feeling stickiness inside the mouth
- Dryness and uneasiness inside the mouth
- Bad breath and odour
- Difficulty in chewing, swallowing, or even speaking
- Change of taste characterised by the dry and grooved tongue
- Sore throat and hoarseness
Detailed Causes of Dry Mouth
When the salivary gland is not able to produce enough saliva, dry mouth occurs. Some of the reasons why dry mouth can happen are as follows:
- Cancer Therapy
Drugs prescribed to patients during chemotherapy are extremely powerful and can alter the nature and amount of saliva that your mouth generally produces. This change may be temporary. After your treatment ends, your salivary glands may start producing a normal amount of saliva once again. Radiation treatments, however, may either temporarily or permanently damage salivary glands, depending upon the time and dosage of the radiation therapy.
Older people are prone to getting dry mouth symptoms frequently. This may happen due to certain medications they take, the body’s inability to process the medications, inadequate nutrition supply in the body, and also as a result of long-standing illness.
- Nerve Damage
Getting yourself injured in the cranial area, the head, or the neck can result in a treatment procedure that includes surgical methods. Surgery due to injury in the neck or head can also cause the mouth to dry and decrease saliva production.
- Tobacco and Alcohol Consumption
Nicotine present in tobacco is the main reason why people get addicted. Addiction leads to frequent consumption of tobacco products, resulting in a dry and tasteless mouth. Excess alcohol consumption may trigger dry mouth symptoms as well.
Constant dosages of medications like decongestants, antihistamines, pain medications, over-the-counter medications, and several types of pain medicines can cause a drastic change in saliva production, making your mouth dry. Drugs prescribed to treat clinical depression, high blood pressure, and anxiety may also cause dry mouth symptoms.
Without treatment at the proper time, Xerostomia can have serious health implications. It can lead to dental complications like tooth decay, gum disease, and plaque. It can also cause yeast infections, mouth sores, and cracked lips. If dry mouth symptoms are becoming incessant, contact your doctor immediately.