Dry mouth


Dry mouth, or xerostomia, is a reduction of saliva production. Xerostomia is a common problem, and it is important not to ignore a dry mouth. Xerostomia is not a disease, but it may be a symptom of various medical conditions, a side effect of a radiation to the head and neck, or a side effect of a wide variety of medications.
The average healthy adult produces about three pints of saliva in 24 hours. This secretion serves many purposes. Saliva is important in the digestive process of breaking foods down for absorption and use by the body. Saliva washes away food and plaque from the teeth and helps prevent tooth decay. Saliva also limits bacterial growth that can dissolve tooth enamel or lead to mouth infections. Saliva neutralizes damaging acids in the mouth, enhances the ability to taste food, and makes it easier to swallow.
Xerostomia is a common complaint found often among older adults, affecting approximately 20% of the elderly. Mouth dryness may be due in part to the effects of aging. According to proposed theories, as individuals age, the salivary glands may secrete less saliva.
Xerostomia may be caused by medications, such as antihypertensives, antidepressants, analgesics, tranquilizers, diuretics, chemotherapy, and antihistamines. Xerostomia may also be caused by other health conditions, such as bone marrow transplants, endocrine disorders, stress, depression, nerve damage to the neck of face areas, and Sjogren's syndrome (an autoimmune disease). Also, radiation treatment that is focused on or near the salivary gland can temporarily or permanently damage the salivary glands.
Methods to reduce mouth dryness include hydration (drinking plenty of fluids such as water) and sucking on sugar-free lozenges, which can stimulate the production of saliva.
Although the treatment depends on the cause, dry mouth is often a side effect of medications. Dry mouth may improve with an adjusted dosage or new prescription.

Related Terms

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