What is Xerostomia

Xerostomia is a condition that is suffered by millions of people around the world and is clinically defined as a dry mouth, or “cotton mouth”, due to a lack of saliva. Anyone who has ever gone on a drinking binge is familiar with the feeling; the complete and total absence of liquid in the mouth that makes talking all but impossible. If you are unfamiliar with the feeling of dry mouth take a moment to breathe through your mouth, leaving it open in between breaths. All of the saliva present on the inside of your mouth will dry up, and you will be given a taste of the dry, burning feeling that people with xerostomia must live with on a daily basis.

Unfortunately, for people suffering from this condition it is not so simple as grabbing a glass of water or closing their mouth. The symptoms are caused by a lack of saliva in the mouth, and until they can encourage the salivary glands to begin operating normally again they are forced to live with it. Xerostomia is not considered to be a condition in and of itself. It is generally a secondary effect of another abnormality in the body, which just happens to be affecting the salivary glands. It can be a side effect of radiation to the head and neck, or it could be brought on by any number of medications. Anyone suddenly suffering from xerostomia that has just begun a medication or who takes one regularly would be prudent to take a moment to read the side effects listed on the bottle. Chances are that if the drug is the culprit “dry mouth” will be listed among the side effects.

Xerostomia is a natural side effect of aging, which leads to decreased salivary function, and can also be brought on by stress, dehydration and a trauma to the salivary glands. It has been found to be a symptom of such illnesses as Sj√∂gren’s syndrome, poorly controlled diabetes, or Eaton-Lambert syndrome. It often follows the chemotherapy used to treat cancer in patients of any age.

Treating xerostomia can be a difficult proposition due to the number of possible associated factors. If an underlying disease or other cause is found doctors will treat that first, and the patient’s dry mouth will generally disappear soon after. Unfortunately, many times an underlying condition cannot be found and/or does not exist. In these instances doctors will carefully treat the symptoms, encouraging patients to avoid any decongestants or antihistamines which encourage the mucus glands in the body to halt production. The patient will be encouraged to observe a strict oral hygiene regimen, and to sip sugarless fluids regularly to prevent the body from becoming any more dehydrated. Sugar free gum will also help, and there are variety of mouthwashes and artificial salivas which can help to make the patient more comfortable.

Often individuals with xerostomia will ignore the situation, living with the discomfort because they do not believe that a dry mouth warrants a trip to the doctor. If you are living with xerostomia, take the time to overcome this thinking and visit your physician. He might be able to help.

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