We do not usually think of the mouth as having a delicate balance and many moving parts, but there are a great many systems at work to ensure you can eat, speak and breathe without thought or effort. You mouth contains elements that eliminate bacteria, allow the passage of inhaled and exhaled air, and allow proper and discernible speech to communicate with others, and process food for proper digestion.
Some of the mechanisms and chemical processes are complex, and they mostly rely on healthy mucosal tissues and gingiva to work efficiently and in the background. Saliva is one of the essential ingredients for the functioning of the multiple oral mechanisms. Saliva is antibacterial and acts as a lubricant and moistening agent. Dry mucosal tissue is less resistant to bacteria. Dry tissue has a greater amount of friction and reduces the ability of the tongue to function in speech and wallowing food. Dry tissue does not trap bacteria and viruses before they can enter the airway.
So poorly functioning saliva has many roles in the mouth. Saliva itself has two main components, a thin fluid, and a thicker fluid. They combine for best effectiveness. When there are external or internal factors that change the consistency of saliva, then it does not function as well. You may see this as thick or sticky saliva.
What Causes Sticky Saliva?
The most important common reason for sticky saliva is dehydration.
When this happens, your body is not taking in enough fluids to replace fluids that are lost. This can happen during intense exercise, from being in the sun too long, during illness including vomiting or diarrhea, or from taking medications like diuretics for blood pressure. Other medications include decongestants, antihistamines, medication for anxiety and depression, blood pressure medication.
pain medication, and muscle relaxers.
An illness like a cold or seasonal allergy can cause a stuffy nose. Nasal congestion often forces you to breathe with your mouth open, which can dry your mouth and make your saliva thicker and stickier than usual.
Dry mouth can also come from tobacco and alcohol use or overuse. Alcohol is a diuretic and acts similarly to a medication for that purpose.
Pregnant women experience changes in hormonal levels that can affect salivary production and can cause dry mouth.
Prolonged anxiety can also result in discernible dry mouth.
Some cancer therapies affect the salivary glands from chemotherapy or from radiation therapy. Radiation therapy to the head and neck can disable the salivary glands causing a great deal of dry mouth and discomfort.
There are other less frequent causes of dry mouth which are rarer but can include:
Progressive, terminal motor neuron diseases such as ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease). Salivary stones that block salivary ducts. Sjogren syndrome affects your salivary glands and can cause dry mouth or obstructed salivary ducts. Cystic fibrosis is a genetic condition that alters the production of mucus, sweat, and digestive enzymes in the cells.
Home Remedies for Sticky Saliva
First, speak to your doctor or dental professional to determine the cause and recommend the steps you should take. This can prevent more severe problems down the road. There are also a few things you can try at home.
- When eating, take small bites, chew your food well, and sipping liquids during meals to moisten the foods and assist with swallowing.
- Take frequent sips of water. Suck on ice chips.
- Use a room humidifier.
- Avoid alcohol, tobacco, hot, spicy, or acidic foods, chewy candies, tough meats, pretzels and chips, and hard raw fruits or vegetables.
- Avoid mouthwashes containing alcohol.
- Macmillan Cancer Support recommends leaning over a steaming bowl of hot water with a towel over your head to loosen thick saliva.
What are general guidelines for treating thick saliva?
There are many treatments, depending on the cause, which your doctor or dentist can help you to decipher.
- There may be medication that can be substituted if dry mouth is a side effect of your current medication.
Use over the counter or prescription saliva substitutes.
- Avoid tobacco, caffeine, alcohol mouth rinses, alcohol, soft drinks, spicy foods, orange juice, and coffee.
Removing dentures before bedtime
- Use commercial rinses and toothpastes for dry mouth.
- Drinking 8 to 10 glasses of fluid daily while sipping slowly to avoid washing away the saliva you do have.
- Sucking on but do not chew ice cubes.
- Using a humidifier in your bedroom when you sleep.
- Chew thoroughly before you swallow.
- Reducing or eliminating sugar consumption and limit salt intake.
- Consulting your medical professional for dietary recommendations.
Additional recommendations for people experiencing thick saliva due to radiation or chemo include:
- Eat soft or pureed foods as possible and avoiding sticky foods.
- Clean your mouth thoroughly before and after every meal with mouth rinse or water.
- Consult your doctor about using liquid meal replacements to get adequate nutrition, as well as avoid drying out your mouth.
When to see a doctor
People who are experiencing thick saliva should consult their doctor or dentist to begin the process of pinpointing the root cause.
You could have an infection in your salivary gland if you are experiencing:
- An unusual or bad taste in your mouth.
- High fever.
- More dryness in your mouth than usual..
- Intense pain that lasts more than four hours.
- Difficulty opening your mouth.
- Pain or pressure when eating.
- Redness or swelling in your neck and face.
If you have postnasal drip along with thick saliva, contact your doctor if you have:
- Green, yellow, or bloody mucus
- Mucus with a strong odor
If you are severely dehydrated, you may require immediate medical attention. Symptoms include:
- Lack of sweat production.
- Excessive thirst
- Rapid breathing
- Rapid heart rate
- Low blood pressure
- Dark urine
- Sunken eyes
- Shriveled skin
In all cases, contacting you health professional is the first step to take in changing the downhill course of dry mouth.