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Causes of Chronic Dry Mouth or Xerostomia

Dry mouth (or xerostomia as it’s medically known) may not be a particularly painful health matter, but for those who deal with the condition it is both irritating and concerning. The question is, what causes this condition to emerge?

In most cases the answer depends on the individual and their lifestyle choices. The good news is that making some generally minor changes to that lifestyle could help remedy the situation and stop dry mouth in its tracks for good…

1. Brain Trauma

Damage to the brain through trauma, stroke or the onset of serious health conditions like Alzheimer’s disease can lead individuals to feel like they are suffering from dry mouth. However, in many cases it’s the damage to the brain that is causing this feeling, meaning saliva production remains normal.

If someone close to you has recently experienced a health event affecting their brain and complains regularly of dry mouth, talk to a doctor about examining the problem to see if it’s the result of the brain damage or legitimately related to saliva production.

2. Cancer Treatment

There are few more frightening things in life than a cancer diagnosis. Part of the problem is that many of the treatments used to treat cancer take a toll on the body. In fact, researchers from the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research have found that dry mouth is a common side effect of many chemotherapy drugs.

This is because those drugs affect the development of saliva in the mouth. The good news is that this is often temporary, with production of saliva returning to normal once the body adapts to the treatment or the treatment is completed. Of course, this will vary from case to case.

3. Methamphetamine Use

One of the most dangerous new illegal drugs is methamphetamines, which are often produced by combining a wide variety of volatile chemicals. One of the many, many side effects of using methamphetamines is dry mouth, according to the American Dental Association (ADA).

In fact, dry mouth is so common in users of methamphetamines that the condition is often referred to as “meth mouth.” Unfortunately, the condition won’t go away until someone stops using this very dangerous and illegal drug.

4. Medication

If you’re experiencing an annoying bout of dry mouth, ask yourself this important question: did you just switch to a new medication? Dry mouth is a common side effect of many prescription medications, particularly those used to treat depression, nerve damage, anxiety, and even common seasonal allergies.

Of course, you shouldn’t stop taking medication without first discussing the matter with your doctor. Be sure to take this important step before doing anything drastic.

5. Using Tobacco

There are many, many reasons to avoid smoking or chewing tobacco, from difficulty breathing to the development of lung cancer. One of the more minor–though often very frustrating–side effects of tobacco use is dry mouth.

Dry mouth can develop if one smokes or chews tobacco. The good news is that terminating the use of tobacco can help the body begin to produce saliva at a normal rate, leading to the eventual elimination of the problem.

6. Snoring

Snoring, unlike most other health conditions, is remarkable in that it can affect the people around the person suffering from the condition more than the actual patient. That’s because it often disturbs the sleep of others more than the person snoring!

That said, many people who snore do experience regular dry mouth. The reason is simple: compared to people who don’t snore, their mouths are open for much of the night, leading it to become dry and irritated.

7. Getting Older

Finding the cause of dry mouth can often be simple. In some cases, all one needs to do is try a different medication or drink more water. But sometimes the problem is related to age and, unfortunately perhaps, we can’t reverse the aging process.

Put simply, older people are more likely to experience dry mouth, for a variety of reasons. If you’ve seen your dry mouth condition over time, it’s important to talk to your doctor about the matter. Resolving the issue could be easier than you think.

8. Nerve Damage

According to WebMD, any kind of nerve damage that occurs to either the head or neck area, whether it be from injury or surgery, can potentially result in a bad cause of xerostomia.

9. Dehydration

This one might seem pretty obvious, but dehydration is often the cause of xerostomia. This dehydration doesn’t always result from not drinking enough water. While that’s often the main cause, there are others. The Oral Cancer Foundation writes, “Dehydration resulting from impaired water intake, emesis, diarrhea or polyuria can result in xerostomia.”

You should aim to drink at least eight glasses of water every day.

10. Sjogren’s Syndrome

There are several health conditions that can cause xerostomia, including diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, stroke, or yeast infection, but the most common is sjogren’s syndrome. This disease is a chronic inflammatory autoimmune disease that occurs in postmenopausal women, states The Oral Cancer Foundation.

While it’s not overly common, only about 3-percent of Americans suffer from it with about 90-percent of all cases being women around the age of 50, it’s still something to be aware of. “SS is characterised by lymphocytic infiltration of salivary and lacrimal glands, resulting in xerostomia and xerophthalmia,” writes the source. “This combination is called the sicca complex. Enlargement of major salivary glands occurs in about one-third of patients with SS.” Because there is no cure for this condition, the main form of treatment is to just manage the symptoms, one of which is xerostomia.

11. Other Systemic Diseases

In addition to Sjogren’s syndrome, sarcoidosis, and HIV-salivary gland disease, there are several other systemic diseases that can cause xerostomia. The Oral Cancer Foundation includes a long list of conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus, scleroderma, diabetes mellitus, hypertension, cystic fibrosis, bone marrow transplantation, endocrine disorders, nutritional deficiencies, nephritis, thyroid dysfunction and neurological diseases like Bell’s palsy and cerebral palsy.

There are also hypersecretory conditions like primary biliary cirrhosis, atrophic gastritis and pancreatic insufficiency. Mental conditions like depression, anxiety or stress can lead to a chronic dry mouth. As well as activities like hyperventilation.

12. Sarcoidosis and Amyloidosis

These two conditions are two chronic inflammatory diseases that have been known to cause a chronic dry mouth, or xerostomia. Sarcoidosis is caused by a collection of tiny growths made up of inflammatory cells (granulomas) which can occur anywhere in the body, says the Mayo Clinic. It most commonly occurs in the lungs and lymph nodes. But it can also appear in the eyes, skin, heart, and other organs. According to The Oral Cancer Foundation, “sarcoidosis, noncaseating epithelioid granulomas in salivary glands result in reduced salivary flow.”

On the other hand, amyloidosis is a rare disease that occurs when amyloid, an abnormal protein, builds up in the organs. This protein is produced by the bone marrow, but can be deposited in any tissue or organ in the body, explains the Mayo Clinic. The organs that are targeted are different for every person, but most often it’s found in the heart, kidneys, liver, spleen, nervous system, and digestive tract. Patients with amyloidosis can suffer from a chronic dry mouth. “In amyloidosis, amyloid deposits in the salivary glands result in development of xerostomia,” writes The Oral Cancer Foundation.

13. HIV-Salivary Gland Disease

Human immunodeficiency virus-associated salivary gland disease, also referred to as HIV-SGD, is commonly associated with xerostomia. This is because the two go hand in hand. People who have HIV-salivary gland disease will also suffer from a chronic dry mouth, according to a review published in Oral Surgery, Oral Medicine, Oral Pathology, and Oral Radiology journal.

The condition mostly affects children and causes the “enlargement of the parotid glands and, occasionally, the submandibular glands, resulting in xerostomia,” explains The Oral Cancer Foundation.

14. Drug and Alcohol Use

Just like smoking, this one is a no brainer because we all know the dangers of drug and alcohol use. Drinking alcohol puts a person at risk for developing a chronic dry mouth, says the Mayo Clinic, as does any recreational drug use. The worst drug for xerostomia is methamphetamine which we already discussed. It is known for causing a severe dry mouth, “damage to teeth, a condition also known as ‘meth mouth,’” writes the source. But the other common drug is marijuana.


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