Chronic dry mouth is a condition known as xerostomia, which results from the body's inability to produce a sufficient amount of saliva to lubricate and clean the mouth as well as to begin digesting food. To remedy this situation, which could be caused by any number of factors, many turn to an over-the-counter product known as artificial saliva to counter the shortfall. Available as a mouth spray or oral suspension, this compound contains mostly water but also plant-based lubricants, flavorings and pH buffers that mimic natural saliva as closely as possible.
What artificial saliva does not contain in 2011 are the various digestive enzymes present in saliva that begin to break down nutrients in the mouth. Food will be lubricated and corrected for pH balance as it passes into the throat and esophagus — with plant-based compounds like hydroxyethylcellulose and carboxymethylcellulose — but it will not begin digesting until it reaches the enzyme- and acid-rich environment of the stomach. According to the American Dental Association, research is underway to more closely mimic real saliva, including its protein-based enzymes and antibacterial agents.
A range of conditions can lead someone to seek the relief of artificial saliva. Drug interactions are a common precursor to xerostomia, particularly several chemotherapy medications. Mouths tend to get dryer as people age, but certain factors like tobacco addiction or recent nerve damage can intensify the problem. Diseases like Sjogren's syndrome, diabetes, Parkinson's disease and AIDS bring with them occasional dry mouth, but so too can psychological disorders like depression or anxiety.
Physicians may advise some patients to try a prescription-strength medication to battle dry mouth instead of just artificial saliva. A drug called pilocarpine, or Salagen®, regularly fills this role. Another drug that is commonly prescribed to lubricate the mouth and stimulate the body's natural saliva production is called cevimeline, or Evoxac®. Since dry mouth could lead to more pronounced tooth decay over prolonged periods, dentists will often recommend protecting the teeth while sleeping with a fitted mouthpiece filled with flouride.
Artificial saliva and its prescription alternatives are the most direct way to address persistent dry mouth. Other more indirect changes in diet and hygiene can also have an impact. Avoiding acidic, caffeinated and alcoholic foods or drinks will assist the body's natural saliva production, as will drinking water regularly, using a room humidifier, and retraining mouth breathers to use their noses instead. The Mayo Clinic even notes how studies have proven acupuncture effective for treating this condition.