Scientists put dry mouth under the magnifying glass
SUMMARY: Say "ahhhh" - it's for science.
Posted: May 17, 2012
Whether you wake up with it, suffer from it during the day or find yourself getting it in moments of tension, dry mouth always has the same results: bad breath and worsening oral hygiene. Perhaps because this problem is so universal, researchers have been hard at work examining what causes the palate to dry up and how people deal with it.
A full-blown clinical problem
If you find yourself with an unusually dry mouth more than once or twice a week, you may have what doctors refer to as "xerostomia" - that is, a chronically parched palate. It isn't an urgent medical condition, but it's certainly a nuisance, as it can give you dental problems and persistent oral odor.
Plenty of things cause dry mouth. Sleeping with your mouth open is a common reason that saliva dries up. So is taking certain prescription medications. Stress, anxiety, exercise, smoking and mouth-breathing may also leave your tongue and cheeks dry.
Whatever causes it, you'll know when your mouth is too dry. According to the Mayo Clinic, the symptoms of xerostomia include bad breath, thick saliva, cracks at the corners of your mouth, trouble talking or swallowing, a sore throat, increased plaque buildup and difficulty tasting your food.
Yikes. This calls for a specialty breath freshening rinse, toothpaste or lozenge. Any of these products can wet your mouth without using synthetic ingredients or chemicals to eliminate odor.
What the research says about dry mouth
Of course, treating dry mouth is easy, provided you have the right specialty product at hand. What's tougher is determining the prevalence and effects of dry mouth.
Fortunately, several scientific teams are on the case.
A team of Finnish researchers reported that among elderly people (who are most at risk for xerostomia), about 12 percent report having a chronically dry palate - 6 percent of men and 14 percent of women. The team noted that mouth-breathing and medication use increased the risk of dry mouth, and that, in turn, xerostomia led to more (and more severe) dental problems. Their report can be found in the Journal of Dental Research (JDR).
Another study, published in the Journal of Autoimmunity, reached a very similar number - 15 percent of all adults. Its authors added that about 2 percent of participants also had Sjogren's syndrome, an inherited dry-mouth disorder that shuts off salivary and tear glands.
Finally, a brand-new investigation in the JDR has determined that certain pharmaceuticals - like anticholinergic medications - can reduce salivary flow by up to 50 percent. Talk about turning off the tap!