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Dry Mouth

Understanding Chronic Dry Mouth: Causes, Oral Health Impacts, And Treatment

If your Southwest Florida-area dentist suggests that you might have xerostomia, it might not be cause for alarm, as up to 22% of the global population is affected to some degree by the condition, according to the American Dental Association. However, if your xerostomia is persistent and potentially compromising other elements of your oral health, your dentist will undoubtedly recommend treatment.

“What is xerostomia?” you ask.

Derived from the Greek words “xeros,” for “dry,” and “stoma,” meaning mouth, xerostomia is the medical term for dry mouth, which isn’t a disease per se but more of a symptom or condition. And Marco Island dentists Dr. Jonathan Van Dyke will advise you that persistent dry mouth significantly increases the risk of developing tooth decay and periodontal disease and negatively impacts other elements of oral health. Let’s examine the causes and relevant health concerns of the condition, and then review treatment options.


Xerostomia is the primary symptom of hyposalivation, a condition in which the salivary glands do not produce or secrete sufficient amounts of saliva. Anyone can experience short-lived bouts of hyposalivation, and mouth breathing can cause xerostomia absent hyposalivation. However, hyposalivation and the resultant xerostomia become problematic when the condition becomes chronic.

Hyposalivation leading to chronic xerostomia is mostly caused by medications and several distinct diseases and is especially prevalent in older patients whose salivary output may be naturally decreasing due to aging. More than 400 commonly used prescription and over-the-counter medications can cause xerostomia, with more than 100 of these identified as having a moderate to strong link to salivary gland dysfunction. Patients taking multiple medications carry the highest risk of developing chronic xerostomia. Drug classes most associated with xerostomia include:

  • Antihistamines
  • decongestants
  • Antidepressants
  • Anticholinergics
  • Anorexiants
  • Bronchodilators
  • Antipsychotics
  • Anti-Parkinson agents
  • Diuretics
  • Analgesics
  • Sedatives
  • Skeletal muscle relaxants

An inflammatory autoimmune condition called Sjögren’s syndrome is the most significant contributor to chronic xerostomia caused by disease. More than 9 million Americans suffer from the disease, of which about one-third experience xerostomia-causing enlargement of their salivary glands. Other diseases and conditions that can cause hyposalivation leading to chronic xerostomia include:

  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Systemic lupus
  • Scleroderma
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Bell’s palsy
  • Diabetes
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • HIV
  • Head and neck cancer (due to radiation treatment)


Chronic xerostomia promotes the development of tooth decay and periodontal disease because reduced saliva flows cause an imbalance in the mouth’s acid (pH) levels and decrease its ability to protect the teeth, gums, and other tissues from harmful bacteria. Other impacts chronic dry mouth can have on oral health include:

  • Oral candidiasis (thrush)
  • Difficulty chewing and swallowing
  • Impaired taste bud sensitivity
  • Hoarseness
  • Burning mouth sensation
  • Halitosis
  • Mouth sores
  • Difficulty retaining dentures and other dental prosthetics


Anyone suffering from chronic dry mouth should inform their doctor and dentist about the condition. Your medical doctor should be able to identify the underlying cause and may be able to take measures to help mitigate its effects. Such measures include changing medications and/or their dosages, prescribing saliva stimulants or substitutes, and recommending specific lifestyle changes. In many cases, though, there are few options for treating the underlying cause.

Your dentist’s role in addressing chronic xerostomia is primarily devoted to limiting the condition’s negative impacts on oral health. Forewarned is forearmed, and a dentist who is aware of their patient’s chronic dry mouth can screen for related oral health issues during checkups and take proactive measures to prevent development of tooth decay and periodontal disease. Depending on the severity of xerostomia, Island Tower Dentistry provides patients with treatments that kill harmful bacteria, restore mouth pH balances, and strengthen tooth enamel. Our primary dry mouth treatments include:

  • CT X3 Rinse
  • CTX4 Rinse
  • Clinpro 5000
  • Flouride Trays

Self-care measures that can help relieve dry mouth and improve the quality of life include:

  • Take frequent sips of water or other sugarless, caffeine-free drinks.
  • Suck on ice chips
  • Chew sugar-free gum or suck on sugar-free candy.
  • Stop smoking.
  • Limit alcohol and caffeine consumption.
  • Avoid salty, spicy, dry, sticky, sugary, dry, and hard-to-chew food items.
  • Drink fluids when eating.
  • Use a humidifier when sleeping.


The potential oral health impacts that can be caused by chronic dry mouth can be prevented with diligent attention to daily dental care and supplemental treatments offered by your dentist. To learn more about how Island Tower Dentistry treats patients suffering from chronic dry mouth, schedule an appointment with Dr. Van Dyke in the Marco Island, Florida, area at 239-394-1004.

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