Severe dry mouth occurs when a person doesn't produce enough saliva to keep the mouth moist. Unlike the kind of dry mouth coming from mild dehydration, severe dry mouth can interfere with normal activities such as talking or chewing. Since such dryness often comes from chronic diseases or medication, treatment can offer small relief.
This form of dry mouth can have several different causes. It can come as a side effect to a certain type of medication. People undergoing chemotherapy can have their saliva glands destroyed by the radiation. Diseases such as human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), diabetes, anemia, and even mumps can have severe dry mouth as a side effect because they affect the body's saliva glands.
Sjogren's syndrome can be another cause of severe dry mouth. It is a form of autoimmune disease where the body's own antibodies start to attack the saliva glands and tear ducts. They will become red and swollen and quit producing moisture.
Severe dry mouth can have visible consequences. The lack of moisture can cause the sides of the mouth to crack. Sores will form on the inside of the lips where they rub against the teeth. The tongue will become very dry, and chewing or talking will become a chore or almost impossible.
Whereas normal dry mouth can be cured with a glass of water, severe dry mouth may require near-constant treatment. Drinking lots of water or other fluids is recommended to keep the mouth moist, though this can lead to having to urinate a great deal as well. Many people with this condition will carry mints with them to suck on so that they encourage saliva production enough to speak normally. Chewing gum also helps.
There are also several over-the-counter medicines that can be applied on the mouth to mimic saliva. Some of them take the form of gels that can be rubbed on the inside of the mouth for relief. Others are sprays that can be applied like spray breath fresheners.
A prescription medication can also help with saliva production for those with severe dry mouth. It can contain pilocarpine, a drug which mimics the chemicals sent out by the nerves that trigger saliva production. Though this drug can help alleviate the symptoms, it also carries with it the risk of side effects such as rashes and diarrhea. People with glaucoma or heart conditions are also not good candidates to use this type of drug.