Chronic dry mouth is a common concern among adults. Many times, it is caused by medications such as antihistamines and pain relievers, tobacco use, or a head injury that has resulted in nerve damage. But what if none of these explanations fit for your case of dry mouth? If this is the case, it's time to consider the possibility that your dry mouth has a more sinister underlying cause: Sjogren's syndrome.
What is Sjogren's syndrome?
Sjogren's syndrome is an autoimmune condition in which your body's immune system begins attacking the cells that produce saliva and tears. As a result, saliva and tear production goes down. Many people develop not only a dry mouth, but also dry eyes when they have Sjogren's syndrome. If you don't have dry eyes, that does not automatically mean Sjogren's can't be to blame for your dry mouth symptoms. It's possible that you're just in the early stages of the disease and that the dry eye symptoms have not developed yet.
Sjogren's syndrome often goes hand-in-hand with other autoimmune conditions like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, but it can occur on its own, too. If your family has a history of autoimmune conditions, you're at an increased risk for Sjogren's syndrome.
What should you do if you suspect you may have Sjogren's syndrome?
The first call you should make is to your dentist. He or she can take a look at your mouth and look over your health history to rule out other possible causes of your mouth dryness. Your dentist may take x-rays in order to visualize your salivary glands; if they are diminished in size, this can indicate Sjogren's syndrome. If your dentist agrees that Sjogren's syndrome is likely, you'll be referred to an immunologist who can administer a blood test to measure your levels of certain antibodies that are indicative of Sjogren's syndrome.
How is Sjogren's syndrome treated?
There is no cure for Sjogren's syndrome, so treatments will focus on managing your symptoms and preventing the condition from becoming any worse. You'll need to work with your physician and with your dentist to ensure proper treatment.
Your physician will likely prescribe an immunosuppressant drug, such as methotrexate, to prevent your immune system from causing additional damage to your salivary glands.
Your dentist will focus on recommending treatments that will keep your mouth moist. It is very important to take these recommendations seriously, since dry mouth can cause gum disease and tooth decay if it's not addressed. Your dentist's recommendations may include:
- Using a special mouth rinse that boosts saliva production.
- Sipping water more often throughout the day.
- Taking a medication, such as Salagen, to increase your saliva production.
- Chewing sugar-free gum to keep your mouth moist throughout the day.
Your dentist will also want you to come in for regular checkups so that he or she can make sure your teeth and gums are not suffering as a result of your chronic dry mouth. If you notice any of the following symptoms, contact your dentist, as these may indicate you are developing gum disease or tooth decay that requires treatment.
- Gums that bleed after brushing or flossing.
- Swollen or red gums.
- Tooth sensitivity to hot and cold foods and drinks.
- A sore or aching jaw.
- Appearance of dark-colored spots on your teeth.
- Bad breath that does not go away with proper brushing and flossing.
If your mouth is always dry and you can't figure out why, don't hesitate to visit you dentist or physician. You may be suffering from Sjogren's syndrome, and the sooner you seek the proper treatment, the less long-term damage your teeth and gums will suffer.