When a reduced flow of saliva exists that is not alleviated by traditional remedies, dry mouth syndrome may be the official diagnosis. Medically referred to as xerostomia, dry mouth is not a disease by itself but is a symptom of an underlying health issue affecting the ability for someone to maintain a sufficient flow of saliva in the mouth. A wide variety of causes exist for the absence of saliva flow, such as:
- Taking decongestants, allergy medication, diuretics, anti-hypertensives and/or antidepressants
- Decreased functioning of salivary glands
- Chronic post nasal drip
- Periodontal disease
- Excessive smoking and drinking of alcohol
- Stress and anxiety
- Liver or kidney disease
Saliva glands are controlled by the muscarinic M3 receptors, which are located in the exocrine glandular system. These glands include the sweat, mammary, stomach and salivary glands. When this system is working properly, stimulation of the M3 receptors results in increased saliva flow that is designed to keep the mouth clean and free of bad-breath-causing anaerobic bacteria. However, when receptors fail to experience stimulation due to a medical condition or cannot provide enough saliva because of medications and/or inflamed nasal passages that prevent normal breathing, dry mouth syndrome inevitably occurs. Click here to read more about dry mouth.
Symptoms or dry mouth include:
- Viscous saliva
- Difficulty swallowing
- Ulcerous mouth lesions (canker sores)
- Evidence of tooth decay, gum disease, receding gums and rapid appearance of cavities
- Extremely bad breath
- Oral fungal infections
- Dry lips leading to fissuring
- Loss of smell and taste
Saliva is a vital component of supporting optimal oral health because it contains beneficial digestive enzymes and a lubricating substance called mucin that is responsible for regulating the mouth's pH level. Additionally, saliva provides antimicrobial compounds that inhibit the development of tooth and gum disease, helps eliminate food debris accumulations in oral cavities, kills viruses and discourages anaerobic bacterial growth that directly produces chronic halitosis.
Suffering from dry mouth syndrome often leads to an oral infection called candidiasis, or thrush. This fungal infection can develop overnight and persist even when employing aggressive treatment plans. One immediately noticeable symptom of thrush is a thick, cream-colored coating on the tongue, tonsils and/or cheeks that may appear slightly red due to inflammation. Sometimes the fungal patches are painful and bleed if the person affected tries to scrape off the deposits. Thrush produces halitosis so that an affected individual's breath will present a distinct, extremely disagreeable, sulfurous odor.
In addition to dry mouth syndrome, several other conditions may contribute to the development of thrush, such as: Diabetes, antibiotics, the wearing of dentures and lupus. Treatment of thrush consists of applying topical anti-fungal medications (miconazole or amphotericin B) that are provided in oral suspension form in order for the person to use it as a mouthwash and safely swallow the solution. Once the fungus begins succumbing to medication designed to create an oxygenated environment within the mouth, anaerobic bacteria causing bad breath will disappear as well. Oxygen-rich environments are hostile to anaerobic bacteria, which cannot reproduce in such active conditions.
According to the Oral Cancer Foundation, Sjögren's Syndrome may affect nearly three percent of the population in the U.S., with the majority of sufferers being older women past the age of menopause. Sjögren's Syndrome is an autoimmune disease that causes a chronic condition of dry mouth syndrome due to lymphocytic infiltration of the tear and salivary glands. People diagnosed with this disease may exhibit larger than normal salivary glands in addition to blurry vision, dry eyes, swallowing difficulties, mouth soreness and changes in the ability to smell and taste. No cure exists at the moment for Sjögren's Syndrome and treatment involves simply managing the disease with saliva substitutes, artificial tears and oxygenating mouthwashes.
Xerostomia is also a symptom of many systemic diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, cystic fibrosis, endocrine disorders, hyper-or hypothyroidism and nutritional deficiencies. Systemic diseases are those that affect several tissues and organs simultaneously which results in the disease indirectly affecting all physiological systems. Sometimes a systemic disorder may be referred to as a "multiple organ dysfunction syndrome" because of its ability to negatively threaten other organs in the body.
The Problem of Halitosis in Dry Mouth Syndrome
One of the most distressing symptoms caused by xerostomia is bad breath. As an embarrassing affliction that can radically inhibit a person's ability to interact with others, bad breath is often treated with remedies that only mask the odor for a short period. Frequently, halitosis associated with dry mouth is so severe that eating sugary breath mints and gargling with strong alcohol-based mouthwashes does not eliminate a smell that is often associated with dirty socks, rotten eggs or worse, decaying organic matter.
Since the reason for bad breath due to dry mouth syndrome is the presence of anaerobic bacteria, employing strategies that reduce oral anaerobic activity is essential to defeating halitosis. Brushing the teeth and the tongue at least twice a day, flossing, rinsing the mouth with an antibacterial solution and drinking plenty of water are the most effective treatment methods for eliminating bad breath. Sugarless candy or gum act as saliva stimulants and will also help keep the mouth hydrated and oxygenated. In addition, visiting a dentist for regular cleanings and checkups is also recommended since bacteria thrive on plaque build-up and mouth debris that is left to accumulate.