What Is Xerostomia?

Drinking water for Xerostomia

Xerostomia, or chronic dry mouth, is a common side effect of many medications and medical conditions that is often looked over. Left untreated, it can cause a wide range of issues including even tooth loss. 

What Is Xerostomia?

Xerostomia occurs when the salivary glands in your mouth do not produce adequate saliva to keep your mouth moist. The effects of xerostomia are more than just dry mouth, you may also experience dry nasal passages, sore throat, cracked lips, dry tongue, and mouth sores. Without regular saliva production, you may also experience difficulty tasting, chewing, and swallowing food. Bad breath is also a key indicator of chronic dry mouth and possibly infection. Treating xerostomia can be as easy as staying hydrated throughout the day. However, if you persistently feel the symptoms associated with dry mouth, talk to Dr. Sisko about the treatment including medications, oral rinses, and a review of side effects from other medications you are currently taking.

Why is saliva so important?

Saliva is a clear liquid produced by several glands in your mouth. Its composition is 98% water, but also contains proteins, enzymes, electrolytes, minerals, antibacterial components, and mucus. You produce saliva when you chew which is why chewing gum or sucking on a hard candy or cough drop can encourage saliva production.

Saliva plays a vital role in the human body in several ways:

1. Aids digestion. It makes the food you chew softer and wetter, and thus easier to swallow and ingest. An enzyme in saliva called amylase also helps break down starch, dextrose, and maltose into smaller molecules.

2. Fights tooth decay. The movement of saliva in the mouth can wash away the trace food debris that feeds the bacteria that causes tooth decay. 

3. Helps repair tooth enamel. The minerals found in the clear liquid include calcium, fluoride, and phosphorus, which contribute to repairing the protective surface layer of your teeth.

4. Prevents infection in the mouth by regulating fungi and bacteria. One such example is thrush, a fungal infection of the mouth that can feel like a sore throat.

Common Causes Of Dry Mouth

  • Breathing with your mouth open can cause xerostomia. This includes breathing through your mouth during sleep.

  • Tobacco, alcohol, and recreational drug use can affect saliva production.

  • Dehydration. Conditions such as excessive sweating, fever, diarrhea, or vomiting can lead to dehydration as well.

  • Certain medications, such as relaxants and sedatives, can cause dry mouth as a side effect.

  • Chemotherapy treatments can cause xerostomia in cancer patients.

  • Nerve damage to the head or neck, from an injury or surgery affecting the area

  • Certain diseases and infections can cause dry mouth. Some examples include anemia, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, or HIV/AIDS.

Elderly people can experience dry mouth with aging. This can be caused by other existing health conditions, certain medications, not getting enough nutrition or a combination of the above.

How does xerostomia affect my oral health?

Xerostomia can directly impact your dental health. Without adequate saliva production to sweep away food debris and plaque from the surface of your teeth, you would be significantly more vulnerable to tooth decay. With harmful acids left on the surface of teeth due to dry mouth, you may also be more at risk of these acids eroding your tooth enamel. With food and drink remaining on the surface of your teeth, in addition to already-weakened tooth enamel, you would be more susceptible to the staining and discoloration of teeth.

The preventative role saliva plays in protecting your mouth from bacteria and infection is particularly useful when we consider periodontitis. Pariodontitis, or gum disease, is a bacterial infection of the gums. While dry mouth can exacerbate plaque and tartar buildup, gum disease increases your risk of tooth decay, and when untreated, can even allow tooth decay to reach the roots of teeth. Should tooth decay reach the supporting structure under teeth, this could result in tooth loss. Dr. Sisko has over 30 years of experience providing dental restoration including fillings & crowns to save your natural teeth or dental implants to replace lost teeth due to infection or injury. If you are seeking dental care in the Summit County area, consider Sisko Dental in Tallmadge for your family and cosmetic dentistry needs.


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