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Four Common Causes Of Dry Mouth

Dry mouth, or xerostomia, is an irritating health condition that many older adults deal with on a daily basis. Dry mouth is characterized by reduced saliva production, and it can cause complications like difficulty eating, bad breath, mouth sores, and an increased risk of tooth decay. This guide will cover four common causes of dry mouth.

1. Existing Health Conditions

Dental patients are often surprised to learn that dry mouth is not a direct result of aging. In the absence of other factors, saliva output does not decrease significantly even into advanced age. The increased incidence of dry mouth in older adults is largely due to a higher rate of chronic diseases that reduce saliva production.

Autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, scleroderma, or Sjogren's syndrome are some of the biggest contributors to dry mouth. Autoimmune diseases can cause inflammation in the salivary glands that reduces their saliva capacity. Fungal or bacterial infections such as tuberculosis can cause a unique type of inflammation called granulomatous reaction that enlarges and irritates the salivary glands.

2. Medical Side Effects

In addition to higher rates of health conditions that cause dry mouth, elderly adults are more likely than younger adults to take medications that may cause dry mouth as a side effect. Several medications can contribute to dry mouth by slowing saliva production or thickening saliva. Antidepressants, antihistamines, and Alzheimer's disease medications are frequent offenders.

Naturally, the risks of dry mouth do not compare to the risks of many other health conditions that are treated with prescriptions. However, you should still talk to your doctor to see if an alternative is available. Medications can cause reactions from person to person, so an alternative medication may provide effective treatment without the irritating side effect of dry mouth.

3. Habits and Lifestyle Choices

Anything you consume can have an impact on your oral health, and tobacco and alcohol are not excluded from this list. Alcohol is a diuretic, and your body will produce less saliva when it is dehydrated. With long-term use, both alcohol and tobacco can cause chronic reduced saliva flow. Alcohol and tobacco will also worsen bad breath caused by dry mouth.

Sometimes, dry mouth issues arise from daily habits that haven't even caught your attention. Dry mouth can be from breathing through your mouth too often or failing to hydrate properly throughout the day. Dietary changes may help as well: both salty and sugary foods contribute to dry mouth. Your dentist can give you personalized recommendations to help you manage dry mouth with simple lifestyle changes.

4. Nerve Damage

Some cases of dry mouth originate from nerve damage that prevents saliva production signals from reaching the salivary glands. Diabetic neuropathy is a classic example of this because the nerves around the salivary glands are very susceptible to changes in blood pressure. Disease or surgeries that affect the nerves in the neck and head can cause dry mouth.

People with dry mouth from nerve damage will often experience secondary symptoms. Numbness or shooting pain in the neck or jaw is common. Some dental patients report a continuous burning sensation on their tongue or anterior palate, a condition known as burning mouth syndrome. Your doctor can help to determine if dry mouth is another symptom of existing nerve damage.

No single solution is available for dry mouth due to its wide variety of causes, but that doesn't mean it's a problem you have to live with. A few easy changes can help you enjoy your food more and keep your entire mouth healthy. If you want solutions to dry mouth or any other dental health concerns, visit your dentist today.

by Doctors Davis and Beyer

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