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Dry mouth, known medically as xerostomia, is the abnormal reduction of saliva due to medication, disease, or medical therapy.
Dry mouth due to the lack of saliva can be a serious medical problem. Decreased salivation can make swallowing difficult, decrease taste sensation, and promote tooth decay.
Dry mouth, resulting from thickened or reduced saliva flow, can be caused by a number of factors: medications,
Dry mouth, together with dry eyes, is a core symptom of Sjögren's syndrome, named for the Swedish physician who first described it. Sjögren's syndrome is an autoimmune disorder in which the body's white cells attack the glands that produce saliva and tears. It is a common cause of dry mouth in the elderly.
Although psychiatric disorders involving dry mouth are unusual, several cases have been reported of somato-form disorders in which dry mouth is a central symptom. Somatoform disorders are psychiatric disturbances characterized by external physical symptoms or complaints that are related to psychological problems rather than organic illness.
The diagnosis of dry mouth is not difficult. The patient will state that his or her saliva is very thick or non-existent. Finding the cause of the dry mouth may be more difficult and require some laboratory testing. Salivary gland biopsy for stones or tumors should be performed if indicated.
To treat dry mouth, the use of caffeine-containing beverages, alcoholic beverages, and mouthwashes containing alcohol should be minimized. Drinking water and fruit juices will decrease dry mouth problems. Chewing gum and lemon drops can be used to stimulate saliva flow. Bitters also can initiate salivary flow as long as the salivary glands and ducts are functional. Commercial saliva substitutes are available without prescription and can be used as frequently as needed. Use of a humidifier in the bedroom reduces nighttime oral dryness.
Author Info: Mai Tran, Rebecca J. Frey PhD, The Gale Group Inc., Gale, Detroit, Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine, 2005This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to replace the care and information received from your healthcare provider. Please consult a healthcare professional with any health concerns you may have.
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