Dry mouth, sticky mouth, or xerostomia (now that’s a mouthful!): Whatever you call it, a lack of saliva or moisture in the mouth can be irritating and even embarrassing. Here are answers to your dry-mouth questions.
Why is my mouth dry?
Dry mouth happens when your saliva glands aren’t producing enough to make your mouth feel wet. This can be caused by medications (more than 400 of them, including antihistamines, as well as drugs used to treat depression and high blood pressure). Dry mouth can also be a symptom of a disease like diabetes. Or it can happen because of hormonal changes associated with menopause. People who’ve had nerve damage or cancer treatment may have a permanently pasty mouth.
What’s the problem with having dry mouth?
Besides that uncomfortable furry-mouth feeling, a constantly dry mouth can lead to other complications. “Saliva is extremely important in maintaining healthy oral tissues, and in controlling tooth decay,” says Robert MacGregor, a dentist in Kentville, Nova Scotia. Saliva helps wash away food particles, acids, and bacteria. Without it, you may experience more cavities and infections. A dry mouth can also make it harder to chew and taste your food. And it may lead to cracked lips or a sore throat. It may make your voice sound hoarse and your breath smell, well, bad.
What can I do about dry mouth?
First, make note of what not to do. Certain lifestyle changes can reduce how bothered you’ll be by your dry mouth.
1. Skip certain drinks Avoid caffeine, tobacco, alcohol and carbonated drinks. All of these can dry out your mouth more.
2. Avoid some foods Foods that are very spicy or salty can cause pain and irritation in a mouth that’s already dry, says the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. And try not to eat sweet, sticky foods. Without the saliva to cleanse your teeth, you’re more likely to develop cavities from these treats. If you do give in to your cravings, brush your teeth right away afterwards.
3. Check your product ingredients Avoid mouthwashes that contain alcohol, as they will have a drying effect on your mouth tissues. Also, you may want to avoid toothpaste that contains sodium laurel sulfate. It’s a type of salt, so it may cause a burning feeling in your mouth.
4. Add moisture to your mouth As for what you can do, there are many strategies that can make your mouth wetter. “What we like to see people do is try to stimulate saliva flow as much as possible,” says Dr. MacGregor.
5. Get the juices flowing Chewing sugarless gum will cause saliva to collect in your mouth. So will sucking on sugarless candies, especially in stimulating flavours like lemon, mint or cinnamon.
6. Wet your whistle Take frequent small sips of water, or spritz your mouth regularly with a small mister filled with water. “It’s not as good as saliva because water doesn’t have the same properties,” Dr. MacGregor says. “But at least it gets some moisture in the mouth.”
7. Go shopping Check with your dentist for recommendations on products like toothpastes and oral rinses (mouthwashes) that are specially made to soothe your mouth tissues. Your dentist may also prescribe artificial saliva swabs or sprays.
8. Moisten your air Keep a humidifier running in your bedroom so you’re not exposed to dry air at night.
9. Tell your doctor If your dry mouth is caused by medication, your health care provider may be able to adjust the dosage or put you on a different drug.