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Xerostomia is the medical term for a dry mouth due to a lack of saliva. Xerostomia is sometimes colloquially called cottonmouth.
Xerostomia can cause difficulty in speech and eating. It also leads to halitosis and a dramatic rise in the number of cavities, as the protective effect of saliva is no longer present, and can make the mucosa of the mouth more vulnerable to infection. Notably, a symptom of methamphetamine use called "meth mouth" is largely caused by xerostomia.
Other causes of insufficient saliva include anxiety, side effects of drugs, medications, or alcohol, trauma to the salivary glands or their ducts or nerves, dehydration, excessive mouth breathing, previous radiation therapy, and also a natural result of aging. The vast majority of elderly individuals will suffer xerostomia to some degree. Playing or exercising a long time outside on a hot day will often cause your saliva glands to simply dry up as your bodily fluids are concentrated elsewhere. Marijuana also dries out the throat, mouth and lips.
Treatment involves finding any correctable causes and fixing those if possible. In many cases it is not possible to correct the xerostomia itself, and treatment focuses on relieving the symptoms and preventing cavities. Patients who have endured chemotherapy usually suffer from this post- treatment. Patients with xerostomia should avoid the use of decongestants and antihistamines, and pay careful attention to oral hygiene. Sipping sugarless fluids frequently, chewing xylitol-containing gum, and using a carboxymethyl cellulose saliva substitute as a mouthwash may help. Non-sysetemic relief can be found using Aquoral, an oxidized glycerol triesters treatment used to coat the mouth.
- Jensen JL, Langberg CW (1997): Temporary hyposalivation induced by radiation therapy in a child. Tidsskr Nor Loegeforen 21:3077-9
- Oral Cancer Foundation
- University of Illinois at Chicago
- Sjögren's Syndrome Foundation page on Dry Mouth
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