Monday, January 7, 2013

Dry Mouth

It’s winter time and cold and flu season is upon us. What does this mean

for you? Well, with the drier air and stuffy nasal passages some people may

notice that they are experiencing a dry mouth for a number of reasons.

What is dry mouth? Dry mouth is a condition in which saliva is produced in

limited amounts. The medical term for dry mouth is xerostomia. Xerostomia

may seem like a minor problem but for people who experience it, it is a

nuisance and can also cause problems. Common problems associated with

dry mouth are increased risk of tooth decay and less enjoyment in food.

Some people complain of a discomfort caused by dry mouth, and say it is

comparable to having a mouthful of cotton.

Saliva helps to prevent tooth decay by limiting the amount of bacterial growth

and washing away any extra food particles. When saliva production is

reduced these benefits are diminished. Moreover, saliva helps people to enjoy

the taste of the their food and swallow their food more easily. People who

experience dry mouth often complain that their food is not as pleasurable and

eating is somewhat uncomfortable.

The most common causes of dry mouth are…

• Medications – This includes prescriptions and over-the-counter

medications. Many cold medications, including antihistamines and

decongestants can cause dry mouth.

• Mouth breathing – Allergies, a deviated septum, chronic sinus issues,

or unusually large adenoids can cause make people breath through

their mouths rather than through their noses. This will obviously

increase airflow through the mouth and will thereby cause the mouth

to become unusually dry.

• Illnesses – Many chronic and acute illnesses can dry out the mouth.

Diabetes for example is a chronic illness often associated with dry


• Cancer treatments – especially radiation treatments. Radiation can

destroy the salivary glands and thereby decrease salivary output.

• Recreational drugs – Some common drugs include alcohol, cocaine,

marijuana and nicotine. Even excessive caffeine can cause issues with a

dry mouth.

People who experience dry mouth should consult their dentist and doctor

for possible treatment options. Possible treatment options include various

types of salivary substitues, sugar-free chewing gum specifically made for

dry mouth, mouth sprays and rinses. If medication is the cause, possible

alternative medications can be explored. For some, mouth breathing may be

due to anatomical reasons, in which case surgery may be an option. If mouth

breathing is due to allergies, finding the proper allergy medications may be

beneficial. Some over-the-counter medications for colds and allergies can

cause dry mouth. It is important to work with your doctor or dentist to find a

solution that is right for you.

Written by: Carrie Owens

Dr. Cisneros maintains a practice in Freeburg and Columbia, IL. Both are in the Greater St Louis, MO area. For more information on a wide variety of subjects, please visit

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