Dry Mouth

August 2, 2011

Almost everyone’s mouth is dry sometimes. But if you feel like you have cotton in your mouth constantly, it may be time for treatment.

Dry mouth, known medically as xerostomia, occurs when you don’t have enough saliva, or spit, in your mouth.

Feeling stressed can trigger dry mouth temporarily. But a persistently dry mouth may signal an underlying disease or condition, so it’s important to see your doctor, says the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which regulates products that relieve dry mouth.

And because dry mouth can lead to tooth decay, you should see your dentist, too, says John V. Kelsey, D.D.S., of FDA’s Division of Dermatology and Dental Products.

Dry mouth may make it difficult to speak, chew, and swallow, and may alter the taste of your food. It can also cause a sore throat, hoarseness, and bad breath.

Dry mouth can affect people of any age, but older people are especially vulnerable. “It’s not a normal consequence of aging,” says Kelsey. “Older people may take multiple medications that can cause dry mouth.”

According to the Surgeon General’s Report on Oral Health in America, dry mouth is a side effect of more than 400 prescription and over-the-counter drugs, such as antidepressants, antihistamines, muscle relaxants, and high blood pressure medicines.

Other causes of dry mouth include:

  • cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy and radiation of the head or neck
  • hormone changes, such as those that occur during pregnancy or menopause
  • health problems, such as HIV/AIDS, diabetes, and Sjögren’s syndrome, a disease in which a person’s immune system attacks the body’s tissues, including moisture-producing glands
  • snoring or breathing open-mouthed
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