Dry mouth could strike suddenly for no apparent reason, but can quick onset dry mouth mean Sjogren’s syndrome? Sjogren’s syndrome is an autoimmune disorder that primarily affects the salivary glands and the lacrimal glands (responsible for keeping eyes moist), impairing the glands’ ability to produce fluids.
I consulted with Ali D. Askari, M.D., Professor of Medicine – Case Western Reserve University;
Chief, Division of Rheumatology – University Hospitals Case Medical Center ; Director, Rheumatology – University Hospitals Case Medical Center. Sjogren’s syndrome also often causes joint pain.
Dr. Askari explains, “Dry manifestations including the eyes and mouth can happen in the absence of Sjogren’s syndrome. There are a variety of other reasons causing dryness of the mouth and enlargement of the parotid glands that includes the stages before the development of Sjogren’s syndrome in total.”
Sjogren’s (pronounced show-grens) syndrome afflicts 2-4 million Americans. Ninety percent of patients are women, for reasons not known. If you’re wondering if your dry mouth might be Sjogren’s syndrome, first make sure that what you’re experiencing is, indeed, dry mouth.
For first-time sufferers of dry mouth, this sensation can easily be mistaken for thirst or dehydration, especially if it’s mild. However, an easy way to distinguish dry mouth from thirst (though it’s very possible to coincidentally have both at the same time), is to imagine a tall, chilled glass of your favorite, thirst-quenching beverage. If this does something for you, you’re probably dehydrated.
If imagining chugging that chilled glass of lemonade, ice tea, soda or iced-up water doesn’t enthrall you, then you likely have dry mouth. Another hallmark feature of dry mouth, when bad enough, is that it feels like cotton is lining the inner parts of your cheeks. Plus, drinking large amounts of fluids won’t relieve the dry mouth, but will relieve thirst.
Dr. Askari continues, “In other words, dry mouth could be the first manifestation and one could take it in the context of the presence of other manifestations (of Sjogren’s syndrome) including Raynaud’s phenomenon, arthritis or arthralgia, skin rashes, neurological abnormalities, etc. Should all these findings be negative, then dry mouth may be a single problem due to age, dry air, mouth breathing, use of instruments for sleep apnea like what is called CPAP, and history of radiation to the neck and upper chest.”
Hundreds of prescription medications can cause dry mouth, and so can mineral deposits (salivary “stones”) that build up, blocking the secretion portals of the salivary glands. Salivary gland infection is another culprit.
“Furthermore, in somebody with only dry eyes and not Sjogren’s syndrome, the test for antibodies in the blood should be negative. These tests include anti-nuclear antibody, rheumatoid factor and specific antibodies of Sjogren’s syndrome including SSA and SSB.”