Out of nowhere your mouth is bone dry. What gives? Could it be Covid-19? Could be. Experts discuss the link between dry mouth and Covid-19.
Is Dry Mouth a Symptom of Covid?
Yes, you can add dry mouth to the growing list of possible Covid-19 symptoms.
As many as 40 percent of people with Covid-19 may experience symptoms of dry mouth or xerostomia (as it’s medically known) during or after the illness, according to a study in the Dental Research Journal. Some people may develop dry mouth even before other Covid-19 symptoms.
“This is even higher than the number of people reporting a loss of taste in Covid-19,” said Kevin M. Byrd, DDS, PhD, Anthony R. Volpe Research Scholar & Manager of Oral & Craniofacial Research, Lab of Oral & Craniofaciale Innovation (LOCI); American Dental Association Science & Research Institute.
Here’s everything you need to know about this symptom, including its link to Covid and other causes of dry mouth.
What is a dry mouth?
Your salivary glands normally produce saliva, which is released through ducts in the mouth.
Dry mouth occurs when saliva production slows or stops, and it’s more than just a nuisance. It can cause problems with swallowing, speaking and eating.
In addition, saliva protects your mouth and teeth. If there is a deficiency, you may develop cavities and/or painful mouth infections, including a yeast infection or thrush.
The saliva of people with Covid-19 may contain high levels of the virus. This is one of the reasons Covid-19 saliva testing, including home testing, can help detect the virus, says Dr. byrd.
Dry mouth and Covid-19
And now research in the magazine naturopathy provides clues about how Covid-19 affects the mouth and saliva.
A team of researchers from the Wellcome Sanger Institute in Cambridge, UK and other organizations in the US and UK identified the angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 receptor, or ACE2 receptor, in cells of the salivary glands and tissues lining the mouth. This is the protein in which SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, attaches itself to enter the body.
The researchers also found that the virus can multiply in the cells of your salivary glands. The researchers exposed saliva from eight people with asymptomatic Covid-19 to healthy cells grown in a dish. This experiment led to the infection of Slice Mag cells.
The researchers also collected saliva from a separate group of 35 volunteers with mild or asymptomatic Covid-19. Those symptomatic people with higher levels of the virus in their saliva were more likely to report a loss of taste and smell than those with lower levels in their saliva.
“Saliva is dumped into the mouth, which is the largest gateway to the body, and it’s a place where you can not only be exposed to Covid-19, but also expose others,” said Blake M. Warner, DDS, PhD , an assistant clinical researcher and chief of the division of salivary disorders at the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research of the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. dr. Warner was a senior researcher on the study published in naturopathy, along with dr. byrd.
This helps explain some of the oral symptoms of Covid-19, such as loss of taste, blistering and dry mouth.
“When infected saliva is swallowed or small particles of it are inhaled, we think it could potentially transmit SARS-CoV-2 further down our throats, our lungs, or even our guts,” adds Dr. Byrd.
This is yet another piece of evidence showing that wearing masks in public areas can help prevent the spread of Covid-19, he says.
“It’s not just respiratory droplets that enter the upper airways of the lungs through the nose,” says Dr. warner. “Particles can be generated in the mouth and talking to each other can spread Covid-19.”
dr. Byrd agrees: “The oral cavity is not an offsite target. It is a primary site and is very often infected with Covid-19.”
Another small study in Future Virology found that dry mouth can be one of the first symptoms of Covid-19, opening a window to prevent transmission.
Fully 60 percent of people reported dry mouth three to four days before other Covid-19 symptoms. Others said their mouths went dry at the same time or one to two days after the onset of other Covid-19 symptoms. Dry mouth tended to improve with Covid-19 treatment.
(These are the worst symptoms that linger after Covid.)
Other causes of dry mouth
Of course, there are many potential causes of dry mouth other than Covid-19, including drug side effects, alcohol, caffeine or tobacco use, and/or certain underlying medical conditions.
Treating these causes of dry mouth starts with lifestyle choices, including drinking more water, especially with meals. Chewing sugar-free gum with xylitol can add moisture and may even prevent cavities, says Dr. warner.
Regular dental care is also important to prevent cavities and mouth infections, says Dr. warner. (These natural remedies for dry mouth will make you feel so much better, too.)
Note that a new dry mouth — even in the absence of other symptoms — without any known cause is enough to consider getting tested for Covid-19, says Dr. warner.
There may one day be a role for germicidal mouthwashes to combat SARS-Cov-2 in the mouth, but it’s too early to make general recommendations, says Dr. warner.
The best way to prevent Covid-19 is to get vaccinated as soon as possible, wear masks in public places and areas and stay home if you are sick.