Here it is in a nutshell: saliva is underrated. We don’t always think about how important saliva is to our oral health. But when we don’t have enough, it can cause big problems. Saliva plays an essential role in preventing tooth decay and gum disease. When we don’t produce enough saliva, it creates a condition called dry mouth. Dry mouth, also called xerostomia, isn’t a disease in itself but is usually a symptom of something else. It’s unpleasant and uncomfortable, but your dentist has a wide range of prevention and treatment strategies.
What Causes Dry Mouth?
We often see dry mouth in older adults. As we age, our body responds differently to medications, and lifestyle habits can take a toll. Here are some of the leading causes of dry mouth, according to the American Dental Association and the Mayo Clinic:
- Dry mouth is a side effect of numerous medications, including antihistamines, decongestants, painkillers, and diuretics.
- Dry mouth can be a symptom of an underlying illness, including diabetes, stroke, Alzheimer’s Disease, HIV/AIDS, and other conditions.
- Dry mouth is a symptom of Sjögren’s syndrome, a chronic autoimmune disorder where the body’s immune system attacks its own moisture-producing glands, including tear-secretion and salivary glands.
- Radiation treatments for cancer can also affect saliva levels.
- Tobacco and alcohol use can lead to dry mouth, along with recreational drug use, including methamphetamine and marijuana.
What Are The Symptoms of Dry Mouth?
According to the Mayo Clinic, symptoms of dry mouth include:
- A feeling of dryness or stickiness in your mouth
- Thick, stringy saliva
- Bad breath
- Difficulty chewing or swallowing
- Dry or sore throat
- Dry tongue
- Change in the sense of taste
- Trouble wearing dentures
When Is Dry Mouth A Problem?
Saliva protects your teeth and gums from bacteria and helps you enjoy and digest food. When your mouth isn’t producing enough saliva, it can lead to tooth decay and other oral health problems, including:
- Gum disease
- Mouth sores
- Oral yeast infection (thrush)
- Loss of appetite
If you have dry mouth symptoms, see your dentist right away before it causes damage to teeth and gums.
How Can I Prevent Dry Mouth?
Keeping up with regular dental checkups twice a year is one of the best ways to prevent dry mouth and other oral health problems. Here are more ways to work with your dentist to avoid dry mouth:
- Let your dentist know about any changes in your medication or health history.
- Drink plenty of water: hydration is essential for saliva production.
- Limit coffee consumption.
- Avoid or quit all tobacco products.
- Eat a healthy diet–good nutrition can help boost saliva flow.
- Brush and floss regularly.
- If you need to use an over-the-counter antihistamine or decongestant, be aware that dry mouth can be a side effect.
- The Mayo Clinic also recommends breathing through your nose instead of your mouth and sleeping with an air humidifier.
What Are The Treatments for Dry Mouth?
When you see your dentist about dry mouth, the immediate goal is to restore moisture to your mouth. Treatments can range from over-the-counter products to prescriptions for medical diagnoses. Treatments include:
- Artificial saliva products.
- Over-the-counter rinses like Biotene and ACT Dry Mouth.
- Sugar-free gum or hard candy to stimulate saliva production.
- Prescription treatments are available for severe dry mouth from Sjögren’s syndrome or cancer therapy.
- If a new medication is causing dry mouth, talk with your doctor about changing your dose or switching prescriptions.
- Your dentist will also focus on protecting your teeth in the absence of adequate saliva production. He might recommend fluoride trays or a cavity-preventing rinse.
Working With Your Dentist To Tackle Dry Mouth
Dry mouth often has both medical and dental causes and impacts. So both your dentist and doctor are partners in prevention and treatment. Your dentist is an excellent first contact when you notice symptoms and will refer you to your physician if needed. At Greenhill Family Dental Care, we understand that oral care goes beyond taking good care of your teeth. Sometimes, oral health issues can let us know when more complex medical problems are in play. In other cases, dry mouth can be addressed by simple lifestyle changes and over-the-counter products. Either way, getting into the dentist’s chair is the first step to feeling better.