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Dry Mouth Symptoms and Causes


What Is Dry Mouth?

Commonly called 'cotton mouth' or the 'pasties'. Dry mouth occurs when there is a lack of saliva in the mouth or throat area. What causes dry mouth can be much more difficult to ascertain. If you suffer from dry mouth or chronic dry mouth, then you understand that the symptoms, although considered 'minor', are anything but. Many dry mouth symptoms can be debilitating in many ways and can cause constant discomfort, distracting sufferers from the everyday activities others take for granted. This article describes the many symptoms and causes of dry mouth; for treatment options, please see our article on dry mouth treatments.

Human saliva, which is produced by the salivary glands, consists of 98% water, but also contains enzymes, electrolytes, mucus, and anti-bacterial compounds. Saliva serves to lubricate and protect the tongue, teeth, and tender tissues of the mouth. It also begins the digestive process, and breaks down food caught in the teeth, protecting the teeth from cavities. Insufficient saliva production can lead to bad breath, increased cavities, difficulty in speaking and eating, and discomfort.

What Causes Dry Mouth?

There are many causes of dry mouth including aging, health conditions, OTC or prescription drugs, surgery, or lifestyle, Some causes are easily correctible with lifestyle changes. Other causes of dry mouth are rooted in medications or illnesses and are more difficult to treat. Finding the cause of dry mouth can, in some cases, be quite tricky. Taking the time find the cause can be of significant value when treating dry mouth symptoms. Here is a list of known causes.

Lifestyle:

Smoking can decrease saliva production and should be considered when determining what causes your dry mouth. Chewing tobacco can also have the same effect. Therefore, decreasing or quitting smoking can reduce or eradicate dry mouth for some sufferers. Alcoholic beverages and products containing caffeine (coffee, tea, soft drinks, etc.) can also cause dry mouth through dehydration. Breathing through the mouth for prolonged periods (especially while sleeping) can exacerbate a problem with dry mouth.

Medication Side Effects:

More than one thousand prescription and OTC drugs cause dry mouth. In one study, patients taking 3 or more prescription drugs had a 60% chance of suffering from dry mouth. Antihistamines, pain relievers, blood pressure medications, antidepressants, chemotherapy, muscle relaxants, hypertension, obesity, acne, mental disorders, asthma, epilepsy, Parkinson's Disease and diuretic medication can all cause dry mouth. Consult your physician if you think your prescription may be causing a drop in salivary production resulting in dry mouth.

Diseases, Infections and Medical Conditions:

Dry mouth can also be attributed to certain diseases or infections or medical conditions including HIV/AIDS, Diabetes, Anemia, Sjogren's syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, cystic fibrosis, the mumps or a stroke.

Medical Treatment Side Effects:

Some medical treatments can cause dry mouth as a side effect. Radiation treatment and chemotherapy in the head region can cause damage to the salivary glands, which can cause chronic dry mouth.

Trauma or Surgery:

In some cases, trauma or injury to the mouth or throat can cause irreversible damage to the salivary glands. In some cases, nerve damage to the neck and head can also cause the salivary glands to produce less saliva. Some surgical procedures run the risk of damaging the salivary glands, thus reducing the production of saliva. All of the above should be considered when attempting to determine what causes dry mouth.

Symptoms of Dry Mouth

If dry mouth is not properly treated, it can lead to more serious dry mouth symptoms such as gum disease and cavities. This is because the saliva that normally protects the gums and teeth is significantly reduced or is no longer present. Lack of saliva can leave the mucosa (mucus membrane) of the mouth vulnerable to infections or decrease protection against other infections of the mouth such as thrush (yeast infection).

There are many symptoms of dry mouth, some of which cause great discomfort or even pain to the sufferer.

Below is a list of common dry mouth symptoms:

  • Thirst
  • Saliva that seems thick, stringy
  • A dry, sticky feeling in the mouth
  • Halitosis (bad breath)
  • A dry hoarseness of the throat
  • A dry, irritable and scratchy tongue
  • A burning or tingling sensation of your tongue
  • Difficulty speaking
  • Inability to chew, swallow or taste food
  • Dry nasal passages
  • Painful sores of the mouth and tongue
  • Chapped lips
  • Increased plaque, tooth decay and gum disease

If dry mouth is not properly treated, it can lead to more serious dry mouth symptoms such as gum disease and cavities. This is because the saliva that normally protects the gums and teeth is significantly reduced or is no longer present. Lack of saliva can leave the mucosa (mucus membrane) of the mouth vulnerable to infections or decrease protection against other infections of the mouth such as thrush (yeast infection).

Articles on Dry Mouth and Dry Mouth Treatments

Dry Mouth - An Overview
Dry Mouth Solutions
Dry Mouth Causes and Symptoms
Dry Mouth Complications
Dry Mouth and Sjogren's
Dry Mouth and Cancer Therapy (chemotherapy)
Dry Mouth and Prescription Drugs

Dry Mouth Symptoms and Causes