Struggling with ‘Cotton Mouth’?

by Hyo Lim

cotton mouth girlDry mouth is a common problem that people face from time to time. For some people, however, dry mouth—also known as xerostomia—is a more persistent and serious condition. Patients often complain of “cotton mouth” and/or thick, sticky saliva. But what leads to this condition?

The number one reason for mouth dryness is as a side effect from medication. Not only do many drugs directly decrease salivary flow and production, but there can be interactions between drugs that result in dry mouth. The common groups of drugs that induce xerostomia are antidepressants, antihistamines, antihypertensives, antiparkinsonians, antipsychotics, beta blockers, diuretics and GERD medications.

Another factor is the presence of anxiety and emotional disorders. As many of us can attest, intense stressful situations can cause temporary dry mouth. Fluid and electrolyte issues can also affect salivary flow. Radiation and chemotherapy can wreak havoc on salivary production as such treatments can damage salivary glands. Autoimmune diseases like Sjögren’s can cause dry mouth. Aging in itself does not cause dry mouth, but the associated age-related diseases and the medications to treat them can affect salivary production.

Beyond the nuisance of dry, sticky lips and tongue, what are the consequences of chronic dry mouth? Because the saliva contains immune factors and properly moisturizes the oral tissues (teeth included), it has an integral role in the health of the mouth. Decreased saliva flow and quality can cause the flora in the mouth to change. This can lead to proliferation of undesirable germs that can cause gum inflammation, halitosis and fungal infections.

The saliva bathes, lubricates and flushes the oral tissues to maintain proper pH and hydration. Without this protection, decay develops more quickly and easily—especially along exposed root surfaces of teeth. A telltale sign of chronic dry mouth is the presence of many cavities on the root surface of multiple teeth. Prolonged periods of xerostomia can also lead to a painful condition called burning mouth syndrome.

Although many of us may have to deal with dry mouth only on a limited basis, there are those who suffer considerably with this condition. As was mentioned above, the foremost cause of xerostomia is drugs. Obviously, it would be ideal to limit drug intake but that is not always possible or practical.

With this in mind, here are some suggestions to lessen the impact of dry mouth:
• Keep well hydrated; sip water frequently.
• Let ice melt in mouth. Do not chew ice, which can cause other teeth problems.
• Reduce or avoid alcohol and caffeine.
• Use humidifier in bedroom.
• Use products to moisturize mouth. (Biotene products)
• Use products to prevent decay. (See your dentist.)

Those having difficulty with dry mouth should seek the advice of a dentist.


Dr. Hyo Lim, DMD, practices at Dental Wellness Centre, in King of Prussia. Connect with him at 610-265-4485 or DentalWellnessCentre.com. May 2015.


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