Xerostomia, more commonly known as dry mouth, has plagued many of us at one time or another. Maybe you worked out a little too hard, became dehydrated and walked away feeling like you had just eaten a bunch of cotton. In that case, you rehydrated and were back to normal in no time. But in more serious cases, dry mouth stems from salivary gland damage, and the effects are greater, longer lasting and can’t be cured with a glass of water. Therefore, xerostomia must be properly treated to avoid doing further damage to your mouth.

Xerostomia Explained

Xerostomia is the medical term used to describe an insufficient production of saliva to keep the mouth wet. It is also known as dry mouth, cottonmouth, doughmouth, pasties, drooth and des. Xerostomia often makes eating and talking difficult, and when untreated, it can lead to a sore throat, bad breath or worse – tooth decay.

Causes of Dry Mouth

The causes of xerostomia are varied. Something as simple as not drinking enough water and being dehydrated can lead to dry mouth; or it can be caused by more serious ailments such as diabetes, Sjogren’s Syndrome or salivary gland damage due to trauma, nerve damage or radiation treatments to the head or neck. Additionally, many medications – including ones for depression, anxiety, high blood pressure and Parkinson’s Disease – can also cause cottonmouth.

One fairly common misconception is that age is a direct cause of xerostomia. That, however, is not necessarily the case. As we get older, we do tend to produce less saliva as we experience changes in our salivary glands; but the reduced rate of production is probably not significant enough to cause complete oral dryness. Rather, when these factors are combined with the increase in the number of medications we take as we age – and because so many medications (approximately 18,000) cause dry mouth – the condition is more prevalent in the older set.

How to Prevent Xerostomia

In the simplest cases, drinking more water can help prevent dry mouth. So if you’re planning an intense workout, or if you’re sick and running a high fever, keep yourself well hydrated and have a bottle of water within your reach.

Also, chewing often can help stimulate the salivary glands, and keeping the glands working means keeping your mouth wet. So in between meals, you may consider chewing sugarless gum. But be careful with this one. Excess chewing can lead to jaw problems, and you don’t want to trade one uncomfortable condition for another.

If you’re a mouth-breather at night (you sleep and breathe with your mouth open), you may consider running a humidifier in your bedroom. The extra bit of moisture in the air can help alleviate some of the dryness in your mouth when you wake up in the morning.

And the most effective preventative measure of all: See your dentist regularly. With regular checkups, your dental professional can help you identify the signs and possible origins of xerostomia and also help you stay on top of your dry mouth treatments.

How Dry Mouth Is Treated

Luckily, there are many different treatment options for dry mouth. That said, every treatment may not be right for every individual. So it is important to be patient and willing to try several options before finding one that works for you.

Relief, for some, can come in the form of a small spray bottle containing plain water. But if spritzing your mouth regularly throughout the day doesn’t do the trick, there are other options available over the counter.

The most common OTC treatments include moisturizing gels, liquids, sprays and rinses. Each of these options instantly refreshes and can keep your mouth feeling moisturized longer than plain water.

If none of these options are effective, a dentist may prescribe a saliva-stimulant medication. This type of treatment is generally used only when all else fails and can only be used by patients whose salivary glands have not been destroyed by whichever factor is causing the dry mouth in the first place.