Dry Mouth Common With Sjögren's Syndrome
Sjögren’s syndrome is an autoimmune disease that affects mostly women in their late 40s or early 50s. Normally, your body’s immune system fights off invaders, such as bacteria and viruses, to keep you healthy. But if you have an autoimmune disorder like Sjögren’s syndrome, your body starts to fight against itself, damaging normal healthy cells.
A common problem caused by Sjögren’s syndrome is dry mouth, called xerostomia. On the surface, it might not seem like having dry mouth is a big problem, but it can lead to other health issues, some of which can be serious.
Your saliva plays an important role in your oral health and the average person makes between 2 to 4 pints of saliva per day. The saliva coats your teeth, tongue, cheeks and gums, but it also:
Protects your teeth against decay
Protects your mouth, teeth and throat from cracking and developing sores
Helps you taste your food and drink
Helps you keep your food moist enough to chew and swallow
Helps you speak
Dentists are often the first healthcare professionals to notice signs of certain illnesses, including Sjögren’s syndrome. Dry mouth caused by Sjögren’s syndrome can trigger and speed up tooth decay, which might not be normally seen in people who generally practice good oral care. Dentists may notice if you aren’t producing the usual amount of saliva while working on your teeth.
Dry mouth can make it hard for you to enjoy your food, let alone eat it. Saliva mixes with your food as you chew it, allowing the food to be broken down into smooth bits and pieces you can easily swallow. When your mouth is too dry, chewing becomes quite difficult, and swallowing can become almost impossible, because there is no saliva to coat your esophagus (the passage between your mouth and your stomach). Many people with dry mouth complain that they choke easily and often.
Saliva also helps you taste your food, and with dry mouth, you may not be able to enjoy the foods you love to eat. Finally, when you have difficulty eating and drinking, you can become malnourished if you cut back on what you consume.
Saliva lubricates your mouth so it’s easier to speak— you can move your tongue in order to make the sounds that form words. If your mouth is too dry, moving your tongue becomes uncomfortable, and it is gets harder to form your words. At the same time, the lack of saliva means that your throat becomes very dry, making it hard for your vocal cords to make the sounds necessary for speech.
If you have dry mouth, your doctor will want to see if it is caused by Sjögren’s syndrome, or if there’s another reason, such as a medication you’re taking. Dry mouth is a common side effect of many medicines. If it is caused by Sjögren’s syndrome, your doctor may recommend the following:
Sip small sips of water frequently throughout the day.
Avoid acidic fluids, as well as drinks with caffeine or alcohol.
Drink water while eating, to lubricate the food.
Suck on sugar-free candies.
Brush your teeth frequently throughout the day with a gentle toothpaste. If you use mouthwash, be sure there is no alcohol in the ingredients, because alcohol can make your mouth drier.
Try over-the-counter saliva substitutes, particularly before bed so you don’t wake up frequently to sip water.
Use a lip balm that is oil-based and/or infused with vitamin E.
Use a humidifier to maintain a high humidity level in your room where you sleep.
Your doctor may also recommend a prescription medicine. There are two medications, pilocarpine (Salagen) and cevimeline (Evoxac), that may help reduce dry mouth and increase your salivary secretion for a few hours. It’s also important to speak with your dentist to see how often you should have your teeth cleaned and checked, to reduce the risk of damage to your teeth.
Dry mouth can be very uncomfortable, but you don’t need to suffer in silence. Speak with your doctor about options that may help you.