Dry Mouth

Dry mouth is a very common problem experienced by people of all ages.  It is unfortunately a very common side effect of many medications, but can happen with a number of different conditions and other treatments.  Let’s talk about them.

Causes of Dry Mouth

You can classify the problems with dry mouth into two main categories:  primary mouth problems, and side effects from treatment.

Primary Mouth Problems:

– Not enough water:  Some people just do not hydrate themselves properly.  And three Red Bulls or two double doubles are not considered “hydration”.  At least six full glasses of water per day can make all the difference to provide the body it needs for saliva.

– Mouth breathing:  In the act of breathing, the lungs require very strict standards for the air it receives in order to allow it to exchange oxygen in the air for carbon dioxide and wastes.  All the “conditioning” done on that air is performed almost entirely in the nose.  In the world of the airway, the mouth has no useful purpose – just like the nose serves no purpose in getting food ready for digestion in the stomach.  Part of the air conditioning done by the nose is humidification.  The mouth is not designed to humidify air, and when we mouth breathe, we very quickly develop a dry mouth and throat.  Saliva is not for air moisture, it is to lubricate and help break down food.  This is where sleep apnea can be part of the problem if it is associated with a blocked nose and obstruction.

– Snoring: The rumble of the tongue base in the back of the throat, churning up saliva, which is protein in water, for a few hours at night, possible with the mouth open, is enough to give anyone a dry mouth and throat.  What happens when we churn another water and protein (like milk) for a few hours?  We get BUTTER.  No wonder people wake up feeling like they have gobs of mucous they have to cough, hack or spit out in the morning!

– Aging:  No one likes when the “you are getting older” card is played.  We agree, it tends to be the go-to answer when there is no other explanation.  In this case, the mouth and throat are lined with thousands of tiny “minor” salivary (spit producing) glands, and are home to four “major” salivary glands.  Over time, the cells in both types of glands just stop working as effectively, and therefore they produce less overall saliva.

In their normal working, these cells package a combination of water from your body, salts and proteins (lubricants, antibodies for immunity, and digestive enzymes that start breaking down food before it hits your stomach).  If there are fewer cells in each type of gland, you are simply going to produce less saliva at any given time.  This can lead to dry mouth and throat.

– Sjogren’s Disease

Sjogren’s disease is a fairly common autoimmune condition where the body’s own immune cells that normally defend us against external dangers start to target some of our own cells.  In this case, some of our salivary and tear secreting gland cells are targeted, killing them and again reducing the overall quantity of cells able to produce saliva and tears.  In more severe cases, people require medications to control this process.

Side Effect of Treatments

Given all the parts and processes needed to create healthy saliva in the mouth, medications can sometimes affect one single process and change your saliva for the worse. It becomes a balance between side effect and the benefit the medication is having on the initial problem.

Diuretics (“fluid”pills), often used for control of high blood pressure or swelling in the legs, can make you dry, usually because they reduce the amount of free water in your body for those cells to use.

Antidepressants and sleeping pills (older ones on particular, but even the newer brands) will cause dry mouth.

Some medications for chronic pain will cause a dry mouth.

CPAP therapy:  Some people complain of dry mouths when they use a full CPAP mask, even with full humidity.  Again, part of this is likely due to the fact that even with external humidity, the mouth is just not well designed for breathing, and science has just not (yet) perfected the art of ideal humidity in these cases.  Throw in the pressure changes required to keep the airway open and it can definitely have an effect.

What can we do?

For the most part, the solutions are mostly supportive.

  • stay well hydrated
  • rinse with as natural a lubricant as you can
  • keep teeth healthy
  • speak with doctor about alternatives to medications if the side effects are too distressing
  • sometimes need a medicated mouth rinse if there are sores appearing or if it may be fungal infection – see a doctor or dentist if the sores are non-healing!

Talk to our Team today if you are experiencing a dry mouth.  We will do our best to help!