Dry Mouth

Dry mouth is also referred to as xerostomia. It is an unpleasant condition that can be related to many diseases. Xerostomia usually occurs because of insufficient production of saliva. Saliva is normally produced by three pairs of large salivary glands (parotid, submandibular, sublingual) and many other small glands located in oral cavity. Lack of saliva is associated not only with dry mouth, but also with bad breath, rapid formation of plaque and tooth decay.

Causes

Dehydration

Insufficient intake or increased fluid output leads to dehydration and this is associated with lower production of saliva. Increased fluid losses are present for example during physical exertion, while staying in a hot environment, in fever conditions, in untreated diabetes and in disease known as diabetes insipidus.

Psychological causes

Stress, anxiety and fear lead to stimulation of organism defense systems (sympathetic nervous system) that in many ways affects human body including reduction of saliva production. Dry mouth is a common complaint of psychiatric patients with anxiety disorders.

Smoking

Cigarette smoke irritates oral mucosa and dries it. Dry mouth in is quite a common problem among chronic smokers.

Sjögren's syndrome

This autoimmune disease is related to damage inflicted on salivary glands by our own immune system. Impaired function of the glands leads to reduced saliva and tears production causing dry mouth and increasing the threat of eye infections.

Medications

Many drugs cause dry mouth as a side effect. These include drugs from group of antidepressants, antipsychotics, anti-allergy medications (antihistamines), some drugs used to treat acne, etc.

Diagnostic approach

It is important to know affected person’s habits including fluid intake, smoking, current medication etc. Diabetes may be ruled out by blood test (glucose blood level). Sjögren's syndrome and rare diseases like diabetes insipidus fall within the competence of internal physicians.

Treatment

Treatment depends on the cause. Adequate fluid intake, smoking cessation and current medication changes usually helps to increase saliva production.