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What is Xerostomia?

Mary McMahon
Updated Feb 05, 2024
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Xerostomia is the medical term for dry mouth. Although xerostomia is not itself a disease, it is associated with a variety of medical conditions, from cancer treatment to drug abuse, and it is a cause for concern if it is chronic. Many people experience dry mouth at some point in their lives, but an extended period of xerostomia can lead to serious oral problems. There are a number of treatments which can be used to address xerostomia, including treatments for the cause of the problem.

Some common causes of xerostomia include drug abuse, certain prescription medications, cancer treatment, undiagnosed diabetes, dehydration, and several diseases and syndromes. Older people sometimes experience dry mouth as well. As the mouth dries out, it becomes vulnerable to infection. This is because saliva helps the mouth defend itself against harmful bacteria, and lubrication keeps the mucus membranes healthy.

A patient's risk of cavities and oral infections can go up dramatically with xerostomia, since the organisms which cause these infections suddenly have free rein in the mouth. The condition can also lead to halitosis, thanks to the bacterial infection of the mouth. Both of these conditions are correctable, but they can be expensive and painful, and it is better to avoid them, if possible. In addition, the patient may have difficulty eating due to his or her dry mouth, and speech problems are also linked to xerostomia.

Doctors treat xerostomia by first getting to the underlying cause, and then making a series of recommendations for the patient's individual case. A reduced intake of sugar is often recommended, along with frequent rinsing with cool liquids, and sometimes artificial saliva will be prescribed. There are also some drugs which can stimulate saliva production in the patient. Because these treatments vary depending on the cause of the xerostomia, it's fine to treat a case of cottonmouth for a few days at home, but if the condition persists, the patient should see a doctor.

Cancer patients and patients with prescriptions for drugs which can cause dry mouth are usually warned ahead of time about this side effect, and they may be given management tips as well. Unexplained xerostomia should always be addressed, because the root cause can sometimes be life-threatening. If dryness of the eyes is noticed as well, it is important to see a doctor as soon as possible to be diagnosed and treated.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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