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Dry Mouth

Dry mouth or Xerostomia refers to a condition in which there is not enough saliva in the mouth. About 10% of the general population and 25% of older people have dry mouth syndrome. A dry mouth is a symptom of an underlying problem, rather than a disease in itself.

The mouth is kept moist with the saliva as long as there is a steady flow through the channels. Chewing, swallowing and looking at yummy food can all increase saliva flow.

What role does saliva play in the mouth?

Saliva in the mouth is necessary for mouth health. It serves to protect the mouth against tooth decay and other oral conditions.

  • It can directly attack bacteria that cause tooth decay
  • It helps to destroy viruses.
  • It has anti-fungal properties
  • It neutralises acids in the mouth.
  • It moistens food for swallowing
  • It helps in the formation of particular sounds in speech.
  • It boosts sensation inside the mouth such as the feeling of pain, sensitivity to food texture and taste.
  • It contains phosphorous and calcium which are vital to the ongoing process of rebuilding of tooth enamel (the hard surface layer that protects the tooth) and is important to prevent tooth decay.

What are the causes of dry mouth syndrome?

  • Mouth breathing as a result of a blocked or stuffed nose or blocked sinuses or hormone changes due to pregnancy or menopause
  • Drugs and medications both legal and illegal
  • Dehydration due to drinking too little fluids, medical conditions such as blood loss, chronic diarrhoea and kidney failure
  • Infection, bacterial or viral of the salivary glands can restrict saliva production and cause inflammation
  • Salivary duct obstructions may restrict the flow of saliva
  • Cancer therapy such as chemotherapy can change the nature of saliva and the amount produced. Radiation treatments to your head and neck can damage salivary glands, causing a marked decrease in saliva production
  • Certain diseases such as AIDS, Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, cerebral palsy amyloidosis, primary biliary cirrhosis and lupus
  • Nerve problems due to injury or damage to facial nerves may reduce saliva production
  • Certain auto immune diseases such as Sjogren syndrome affects the salivary glands, the eyes and the sweat glands

What are the symptoms of dry mouth disease?

Symptoms In the mouth

  • Thick and stringy saliva
  • Rough and dry tongue
  • The tendency of the tongue to stick against the roof of the mouth
  • Problems with chewing or swallowing dry foods like biscuits
  • Bad breath
  • Mouth ulcers
  • Dry and cracked lips
  • Susceptibility to oral thrush infections
  • High rate of tooth decay
  • Increased gum disease
  • A prickly burning sensation in the mouth
  • Loose acrylic dentures due to suction between the gum tissues

Depending on the cause dry mouth syndrome may be associated symptoms outside the mouth such as:

  • Dry and itchy eyes
  • Dry nose or throat
  • Frequent coughing
  • Reduced sense of smell
  • Constipation
  • Joint pains or stiffness
  • Generally feeling unwell
  • Unexplained weight loss
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How does dry mouth syndrome cause tooth decay?

Dry mouth syndrome causes tooth decay to develop along the gum line (gingival margin.) This is unlike the type caused by poor hygiene and sugary diet which develops on the biting surfaces of the teeth. In some cases gums recede to expose the underlying tooth layer known as dentine. Dentine offers less resistance to acids and thus causes rapid decay called root caries.

How dry mouth syndrome diagnosed?

  • At the dental gallery in Point Cook our dentists will determine through a physical examination whether the inner cheeks appear dry and rough instead of moist and shiny.
  • They will examine the tooth to check the pattern of tooth decay
  • Our dentists will also review your medical history for diseases and current medication, to see if these could be causing you to have dry mouth.
  • We will investigate the causes of mouth breathing and organise appropriate referrals if required.

How is dry mouth syndrome treated?

Treatment will depend upon the cause of the condition. The treatment will depend on what is causing the problem.

  • Booking an appointment with a dentist at the dental gallery in Point Cook is the first step. A thorough examination will be carried out and an attempt will be made to diagnose the cause of your dry mouth and outline the treatment required.

If you would like more information, download your free tip sheet on living with dry mouth syndrome.