A dry mouth is caused by the insufficient production or supply of saliva. The continuous production of saliva is indicative of the importance of a constantly wet mouth. Saliva is one of the most underrated substances in the human body, due to the lack of understanding of the important functions that it performs. Saliva aids digestion by softening the food, and through enzymes that begin breaking down food.
It has components that neutralise acid in the mouth and fight off bacterial and fungal build-up. Saliva is a vital part of the tasting process. Human taste buds can’t optimally function if food particles are not sufficiently ‘lubricated’. It also helps to fight off bad breath. With such varied – and vital – functions, a dry mouth presents more than just an inconvenience.
Factors that cause a dry mouth
A dry mouth is usually caused by one – or more – of the following factors.
Water accounts for 99.5% of saliva’s volume, which means dehydration severely impacts its production. Dehydration might be caused by diseases, especially if their side-effects include vomiting, excessive sweating or diarrhoea. If you are regularly exposed to high temperatures, and your fluid intake does not sufficiently restore the water lost to perspiration, you are also more likely to be dehydrated. Even within more moderate climatic conditions, a poor fluid intake will result in dehydration.
- Some medication
Some medications list dry mouth as one of their side-effects. Antidepressants and medication used to manage allergies (antihistamines) are particularly ‘notorious’ for causing a dry mouth. If you are undergoing chemotherapy or radiotherapy around the neck/head region, then you might also suffer from a dry mouth.
- Medical Conditions and diseases
Whether you are suffering from type 1 or type 2 diabetes, you will be prone to having a dry mouth. People who suffer from HIV/AIDS and other autoimmune diseases face higher risks of mouth dryness. Other diseases/conditions that can cause a dry mouth include Alzheimer’s disease, stroke, oral thrush, Sjogren’s syndrome, anemia and the mumps. If you have blocked nasal passages, you will have to breathe through your mouth, which causes dryness. Having nerve damage in certain areas around the neck/head region also affects the production of saliva, resulting in a dry mouth.
- Blocked salivary ducts
Salivary ducts are the ‘tubing’ that transport saliva from the salivary glands to your mouth. If they get physically blocked, then the insufficient saliva delivered to your mouth will cause dryness.
- Excessive alcohol consumption, Tobacco usage, and substance abuse
One of the side-effects of excessive alcohol consumption is dehydration, and dehydration leads to reduced saliva production. Tobacco usage, whether consumed through smoking or chewing, also leads to mouth dryness. Studies have shown that regular usage of methamphetamines and marijuana smoking also causes mouth dryness.
The aging process is both natural and inevitable; and unfortunately, saliva production is one of the bodily functions that it affects. Most people above the age of 65 experience mouth dryness.
How does mouth dryness affect you?
- It results in malnutrition
Without saliva kick-starting the digestion process, your digestive system would never be able to efficiently extract nutrients from the food that you eat. This especially affects carb-rich foods, which require enzymes found in saliva to begin their breakdown process. Without accessing the nutrients in the food you consume, you are at risk of being malnourished. The reduced sense of taste also reduces your appetite, adding to the malnourishment.
- It causes pain and discomfort
Mouth dryness leads to discomfort and cracking within your mouth and lip area. Eating food also becomes a very painful experience.
- It results in chronic bad breath (halitosis)
Saliva washes away food particles from your teeth and gums before they start rotting after being acted upon by bacteria. Without this function, your breath would unimaginably stink.
- It results in teeth and gum disease
Apart from causing bad breath, when bacteria act on food particles in your mouth they secrete acids. These acids are the leading cause of cavities since they bore through your teeth’s protective enamel layer. In addition to cleaning away food particles, saliva also has chemical components that fight off bacteria, fungi and other disease causing germs. Without it, your teeth and gums would be at the mercy of these harmful micro-organisms.
How to address mouth dryness
The first step to take would be to book an appointment with your dentist or physician. Fight off the temptation to self-diagnose through WebMD and other similar websites. You should also make lifestyle changes, especially pertaining to your alcohol, tobacco, or drug usage. Hydrate sufficiently. Make a point of walking around with a filled water bottle to readily address thirst. Most importantly, follow through with the treatment or management plan that your doctor will prescribe for your mouth dryness.