Symptoms, Social Implications for Sufferers and Causes of Dry Mouth
Dry mouth may be much more common than you think, 17-29% of adults experience dry
Dry mouth can be defined as a lack of saliva flow (hyposalivation) or the subjective
perception of having a dry mouth (xerostomia), or sometimes both. Either way, dry
mouth is not a trivial condition. It can be painful and have a profound impact on
oral health and daily life.
Physical Effects of Dry Mouth
- Ongoing bad breath
- Increased risk of caries
- Mouth infections
- Difficulty talking/swallowing
- Perceived decrease in sense of taste
Emotional Effects of Dry Mouth
- Low confidence
- Feeling different from others
Social Effects of Dry Mouth
- Avoidance of social situations
- Needs to carry and sip water
- Avoids eating out
- Experiences difficulty doing usual job
Millions of Americans are affected by dry mouth, especially women, older people
and those using any of the 400 commonly prescribed drugs that list dry mouth as
a side effect.
Patients with dry mouth will usually complain of soreness in the mouth, impaired
taste, difficult or painful eating – especially dry or spicy food – and waking up
regularly during the night. Many with chronic dry mouth also suffer feelings of
self-consciousness and embarrassment.
Visually, you will notice the mucosal tissues becoming red and parched in the case
of dry mouth. The inside of the mouth may be sticky, with cracking at the corners
of the mouth, and the tongue may appear reddened, or take on a ‘pebbled’ appearance.
Halitosis is another symptom of dry mouth, along with oral infections such as candidiasis.
Causes of Dry Mouth: Medication
Over 400 frequently prescribed drugs are associated with dry mouth. Taking more
than one medication may increase this risk of dry mouth.
Certain kinds of drugs are more prone to cause dry mouth symptoms. The most commonly
implicated are tricyclic antidepressants, antipsychotics, benzodiazepines, atropinics,
beta-blockers and antihistamines. Most are prescription, but over-the-counter drugs
that can cause dry mouth symptoms include antihistamines, decongestants, cough and
cold remedies, analgesics and anti-nauseants.
Causes of Dry Mouth: Cancer Treatment
Xerostomia, or dry mouth, has been ranked as the third most distressing symptom
of therapy for head and neck cancer. Surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy can
all cause symptoms of dry mouth, and sometimes dry mouth can be permanent.
Radiotherapy causes the most damage to the salivary glands. In the first week after
radiotherapy, saliva flow reduces by 95% and ceases almost entirely within five
weeks. Two thirds of radiotherapy patients who survive three years are still suffering
from Xerostomia or chronic dry mouth. Chemotherapy also reduces saliva flow, but
the effects are relatively short-lived.
Causes of Dry Mouth: Disease
Dry mouth can be a symptom of several diseases, and is often seen alongside other
reduced secretions such as dry skin, dry eyes, blurred vision and vaginal itching.
Sjögren’s Syndrome — a disease where the body’s immune system attacks salivary
glands and tear ducts — is one of the greatest causes of dry mouth. It is
estimated to affect seven million Americans, 90% of them women, with an average
age of 50. Other diseases known to cause dry mouth symptoms include rheumatoid arthritis,
systemic lupus erythromatosis and sarcoidosis.
Diabetes is another common cause of dry mouth symptoms and hyposalivation. Chronic
dry mouth could be due to the body excreting water through increased urination,
or from some underlying metabolic or hormonal problem.
Other Causes of Dry Mouth
Incidence of dry mouth will grow over the coming years due to:
- An Aging Population: The first of the post-war baby boomers have already reached
their 65th birthday, and by 2050, one in five people in the U.S. will be over 65,
while one in 20 will be over 85. Older people tend to take more medicines and are
more likely to suffer disease—two of the common causes of dry mouth.
- Obesity: One in three Americans is now obese. The growing number of obese Americans
leads to the use of more medications that are likely to raise the incidence of dry