Millions of people suffer from some form of dry mouth (xerostomia) on an occasional or chronic basis. Xerostomia is not a disease itself, but a symptom of an underlying issue that affects the ability to maintain a sufficient flow of saliva in the mouth. Saliva is a vital component of good oral health because it:
- Produces beneficial enzymes that help with the digestion of food
- Contains a lubricating substance that helps stabilize pH and maintain acceptable acid levels in the mouth
- Provides high levels of oxygen to keep oral tissues healthy and fresh
- Helps in the remineralization of tooth enamel by providing calcium and phosphorous
- Enhances one's sense of smell and taste
- Contains antimicrobial compounds that aid in the prevention of plaque buildup, which can lead to gingivitis or periodontal disease
Saliva helps prevent tooth and gum disease, eliminates food debris in the mouth, kills viruses, and discourages the anaerobic bacterial growth that produces chronic bad breath. Many different factors can cause a reduction or absence of saliva flow, including:
- Prescription and over-the-counter medications
- Decreased functioning of salivary glands
- Chronic postnasal drip
- Periodontal disease
- Excessive smoking or alcohol consumption
- Stress and anxiety
- Autoimmune or systemic diseases, and other health conditions
Dry Mouth at Night
Many people suffer from xerostomia at night, which may indicate an underlying health issue that can worsen if left untreated. For example, it is common for allergy sufferers to have dry mouth at night because clogged noses lead to heavy breathing through the mouth. It is common to experience a sticky and dry feeling throughout the night and/or upon awakening in the morning. In addition, many people with dry mouth are excessively thirsty. They may wake up during the night to get a glass of water or feel the need to drink something first thing in the morning to alleviate dryness. There are many reasons why people may experience this problem more frequently at night — from medications to lifestyle choices.
Medications: Both prescription and over-the-counter medications can cause this problem. Among these are decongestants, allergy medications, diuretics, sedatives, muscle relaxants, antihypertensives, and antidepressants. In addition, cancer treatments such as radiation can damage salivary glands, and chemotherapy can cause saliva to thicken, making the mouth feel dry.
Drying agents: The most common drying agent in food and beverages is alcohol. In fact, alcohol causes the worst form of dry mouth, because both the flow of saliva and oxygen content in the mouth are substantially reduced. Alcohol is the basis of all adult beverages such as beer, wine, and hard liquor. Compounding this problem is that many popular, brand name mouthwashes contain at least 15 to 27% alcohol. Using alcohol based mouthwashes makes the mouth very dry, which exacerbates xerostomia.
Tobacco Usage: Studies have shown that long-term smoking significantly reduces salivary flow. This reduction is tied to an increase in oral health disorders associated with xerostomia, including dental decay, gingivitis, tooth mobility, and halitosis.
Dry Mouth in the Morning
Xerostomia upon awakening in the morning is tied to the inability to breath normally while you sleep, e.g., through your nose instead of your mouth. This situation can be caused by excessive snoring due to sleep apnea, or swollen and inflamed sinus passages related to an undiagnosed allergy. Other common reasons include excessive caffeine, sugar or alcohol consumption prior to falling asleep; nasal polyps that obstruct airways; or taking medications that further reduce the ability for salivary glands to produce sufficient saliva during sleep. When an excessive amount of air is inhaled and exhaled through the mouth, this can cause a reduction in saliva flow.
The Side Effects of Dry Mouth
If dry mouth is left untreated, it can take its toll on a person's oral health and cause many symptoms and side effects. Potential consequences include oral fungal infections, mouth sores, increased plaque, dental decay/cavities, gingivitis, receding gums, periodontitis (gum disease), tooth abscesses, dental pulp infections, and even a loss of teeth.
Saliva contains enzymes that promote digestion of food and neutralize acidic substances before they enter the body. When dry mouth consistently affects the amount of saliva flowing in the mouth, digestive processes may be disrupted. This can result in possible gastrointestinal problems such as increased acid reflux. The lack of lubrication can cause irritation and lead to hoarseness when speaking, a sore throat and tongue, dry nasal passages, and difficulty speaking. Saliva helps trap food particles via anaerobic bacteria, enabling a person to fully taste food, however, dry mouth can cause taste buds to shut down.
TheraBreath offers a full line of products that help freshen breath and relieve dry mouth. TheraBreath Dry Mouth Oral Rinse and TheraBreath Dry Mouth Lozenges use our proprietary, natural salivary stimulant to actually help your mouth produce more healthy saliva, providing a comfortable and effective solution for your dry mouth symptoms.