The question could reasonably be asked, "How much really needs to be explained about dry mouth -- it's a self-explanatory condition, right?" While this is true -- dry mouth or xerostomia (its medical name) -- has a surprisingly long list of causes, effects and potential remedies. Dry mouth can be mildly irritating or a serious health threat that significantly decreases quality of life. It's also extremely common. Approximately 30 percent of the population suffers from the problem [source: DeVizo].
Dry mouth is the result of having little or no saliva. Saliva serves a variety of purposes: It lubricates your mouth so you can speak and annunciate properly, it keeps your mouth and teeth clean and it helps with the process of swallowing and digesting food. It also allows you to fully experience taste [sources: NIDCR; Mayo Clinic; Medicine.Net].
There's an assumption that dry mouth is a direct result of old age. While the production of saliva can decrease in elderly patients, it's often the byproduct of another unrelated issue. For example, some medications have side effects that include dry mouth [sources: DeVizo; Medicine.Net].
It's even possible for someone to believe they have dry mouth when, in fact, their salivary glands are working properly and their mouth is fully moistened. A stroke, Alzheimer's disease or other medical problems can make it difficult or impossible to sense moisture, leading the patient to the assumption that their mouth is dry [source: NIDCR].
Continuous or lengthy periods of dry mouth shouldn't be ignored. Since saliva has a cleansing effect, the lack of it will result in the buildup of bacteria in your mouth and on your teeth. These bacteria can erode your teeth and even lead to disease [source: NIDCR]. In addition, dry mouth may be a symptom of another problem. The condition could be alerting you to another ailment or disease [source: NIDCR].
Those suffering from dry mouth can take heart. There are many treatment options which range from lifestyle changes to over-the-counter and prescribed medications. It may even be a temporary condition that will take care of itself. For example, a stressful situation may lead to dry mouth. The body can respond to anxiety by distributing moisture elsewhere and decreasing saliva production [source: NPAD News].
Naturally, the first step in eliminating the problem and its effects is determining its cause. There are many possibilities, but some are far more common than others.