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What Causes Dry Mouth?

What is Sjögren’s Syndrome?
Sjögren’s syndrome is a chronic autoimmune disease in which the white blood cells attack the moisture-producing glands. There are three major components to this syndrome. These include reduced saliva production or dry mouth, reduced tear duct secretion or dry eyes, and frequently, a collagen or connective tissue disorder. In over 50% of patients, the connective tissue disorder is rheumatoid arthritis. Sjögren’s syndrome occurs most frequently (but not always) between 40 and 60 years of age and 80% to 90% of patients are female. The mucous membranes and moisture secreting glands of the eyes and mouth are usually affected first.

Effects of dry mouth
The lack of saliva or dry mouth can have a dramatic effect on chewing, swallowing or wearing dentures. Drying irritates the soft tissues in the mouth, which can make them inflamed and more susceptible to infections. Severe dry mouth can promote the growth of harmful organisms such as bacteria or fungus. This buildup of organisms in the mouth can lead to systemic infections throughout the body. Without the cleansing effects of adequate saliva, tooth decay and gum disease become much more common. Constant dryness and the lack of protection provided by saliva can also contribute to bad breath.

Treatment of dry mouth
There are many ways to treat dry mouth. It is critical that one take good care of their teeth and gums. Brush 2-3 times a day and floss once a day to remove debris from between the teeth. Regular dental checkups are important also. Frequent sipping of water throughout the day is recommended. Most pharmacies carry artificial saliva, which can provide relief of some symptoms. Artificial saliva is not a perfect substitute for natural saliva. Although most saliva is water, it also contains enzymes and minerals which keep the teeth and gums healthy. Artificial saliva typically contains a mixture of buffering agents, cellulose derivatives (to increase stickiness and moistening ability) and flavoring agents (such as sorbital). Artificial saliva can be used as often as necessary and does not require a prescription. Check with the pharmacist if you do not see it displayed with other oral hygiene products.