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Xerostomia (Dry Mouth)

Overview:

Xerostomia (or mouth dryness) is not a dental or medical disease in itself, but a symptom of several conditions and/or their treatment. In xerostomia, the production of saliva is reduced or stopped. Saliva has many functions, including keeping your mouth moist, and helping you to taste foods and swallow. It is also required for speech, and can help to reduce dental caries, wash away bacteria, plaque, and food debris, and neutralize mouth acids that can be harmful to the enamel on teeth. Reduced saliva can put your teeth at an increased risk of dental caries, and can also augment gum disease. Individuals with xerostomia can have other conditions in their mouth, such as thrush and burning sensations when eating certain foods.

Several causes of xerostomia include: 1) complications of certain types of diseases; and 2) side effects of taking certain medications for illness and disease(s). Some diseases that can cause xerostomia are diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, Sjogren�s syndrome, anaemia, cystic fibrosis, HIV, and high blood pressure. In Sjogren�s syndrome, antibodies of the body assault the salivary glands and the tear glands. Other viral infections can also cause xerostomia. There are numerous medications that can cause xerostomia. Some of these include: psychiatric medications, pain relievers, and cold and allergy medications. Older people take more medications, and therefore have more cases of dry mouth.

Dry mouth can also be caused be dehydration, which can result from fever, vomiting, excessive sweating, diarrhoea, blood loss or severe burns, radiation therapy for cancer treatments of the head and neck; and surgical removal of salivary glands due to cancer or other growth that must be removed.

Signs and Symptoms:

Even though xerostomia is itself a symptom, it often seems to be associated with other symptoms which include: frequent or excessive thirst; tingling or burning of the tongue; a red, raw tongue; lip and mouth sores and dryness; difficulty with speech and swallowing; reduced taste acuity; hoarseness and sore throat; halitosis; dry nasal passages; increased dental problems; problems wearing dentures; and repeated thrush (or yeast infections).

Diagnosis:

Tell your dentist or dental hygienist if you are experiencing or have experienced xerostomia. Your dentist will review your medical history and any medications that you are currently taking. Your dentist will perform a complete oral examination, and if necessary with refer you to a physician that can possibly change your medications to drugs that do not have this mouth drying effect.

Duration:

The duration of xerostomia can vary and continue to be a problem if its causes are not treated. Head and neck radiation and salivary gland removal are usually permanent. Prevention: Prevention of xerostomia can only be ascertained by avoiding things that can cause dry mouth, such as certain medications.

Treatment:

Xerostomia treatments key in on three specific areas. These are; symptom relief; dental caries prevention; and increasing salivary flow. Your dentist will help to make sure that you know how to brush and floss your teeth properly. It is then up to you to make sure that you do it at least twice daily. You should also see your dentist for routine check-ups, and also have fluoride treatments performed at those times. Your doctor can collaborate with your dentist to manage your xerostomia. Treatment is usually based on the severity of your problem. Home fluoride rinses and gels may be prescribed, along with artificial saliva that is now available in pharmacies as sprays, gels, or rinses. Your physician may prescribe medications that stimulate saliva flow.

Several things that you can try to help the symptoms of xerostomia are: sipping and drinking water throughout the day (carry water with you); sucking on sugar-free candy or chew sugarless gum, suck on ice chips and sugar-free ice pops; using over-the-counter salivary substitutes or oral moisturizers; use mouth rinses that contain no alcohol; avoid certain salty and dry foods and drinks with high sugar content; avoid caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco use, and use a soft bristle toothbrush.

Seeking Professional Help:

Symptoms of xerostomia can vary from one individual to the next. You should visit your dentist or doctor regularly and update your medical history each visit, this way they will know what is occurring with you in the present. If you feel you have the symptoms of xerostomia, make sure that you discuss this immediately with your dentist, and follow all of their recommendations.

Prognosis:

Most individuals with xerostomia that have correct therapy can be comfortable if they follow their dentist�s recommendations. Also, very good oral hygiene can also help to lower the incidence of dental caries and gum disease(s) in individuals with xerostomia.