Dry mouth is a common problem, particularly among adult women. Dryness of the mouth is known as xerostomia and the decreased flow of saliva is known as hyposalivation.

Normally, an adult secretes 0.5–1 litres of saliva per day. Saliva has an important role: its defence mechanisms and minerals protect the mouth and teeth and fortify teeth surfaces. It also washes away bacteria from the mouth. When the flow of saliva decreases, its beneficial health effects also decrease.

What are the symptoms of a dry mouth?

Reduced secretion of saliva can cause several symptoms. Dry mucous membranes feel tender and might become sore easily. The mouth can feel dry even during eating. Speaking and swallowing might feel difficult.

Less saliva also means fewer defence factors and beneficial minerals. This decreases the antimicrobial effects of saliva, which exposes the teeth and mucosa to infections caused by bacteria, viruses and fungi. Increased tooth decay may be a symptom of hyposalivation. Furthermore, when there is less saliva to clean the mouth, acid substances can wear the teeth down easier and quicker.

Taste disruptions, tongue pain, a stinging and burning sensation in the mouth and difficulties with removable prostheses may be associated with hyposalivation. A dry mouth can also be the reason behind bad breath.

What causes the mouth to dry?

Dry mouth syndrome is one of the most common side effects of many medications. Medication is the most common cause for xerostomia. Medications that cause the mouth to dry include many cardiovascular medicines, diuretics, psychotic drugs, antihistamines and asthma medications and medications that affect the gastrointestinal tract. Taking these medications together increases the risk of xerostomia even further.

Several common diseases also cause xerostomia. Often, diabetes and rheumatism patients and patients with Sjögren’s syndrome suffer from a dry mouth and decreased flow of saliva. Radiation therapy in the head and neck area can also reduce the secretion of saliva substantially, even permanently.

Pregnancy, menopause, stress and depression can also cause the mouth to dry due to hormonal reasons. Anorexia nervosa, bulimia, frequent fasting and heavy breathing through the mouth can also cause dry mouth syndrome.

Dry mouth syndrome can also be caused by Sjögren’s syndrome, which is a fairly common disease of the connective tissue. Sjögren’s syndrome is an autoimmune disease that causes the body to act against its own gland cells. Decreased operation of the lacrimal and salivary glands dries the eyes and mouth. The syndrome is much more common in women than in men. Sjögren’s syndrome is also a typical condition associated with rheumatism.

Treatment of a dry mouth

A dry mouth increases the risk of tooth decay and mouth inflammation, which means oral hygiene becomes even more important. Cavities can be prevented by taking additional fluoride and intensifying home care. The unpleasant feeling of dryness can be alleviated with artificial saliva, mouthwash and moisturising gels. Drinking ample amounts of water and chewing, for example, gum often help to keep the mouth moist. In some cases, medication may be needed. Go to the dentist more frequently to keep the situation under control.