Dry mouth. The symptoms of the condition are right in the name. But what exactly is dry mouth? Why is it such a big deal to dentists? What causes it? What are the risks? How can it be managed? And why is everyone making such a big deal about saliva?
Dry mouth occurs when there is a low flow of saliva in the mouth. Saliva is more than just drool or slobber; it actually plays a critical role in oral health. It functions in moistening and cleansing the mouth, digesting food, and preventing infection by controlling bacteria and fungi. Now, I know it is not pleasant to think that you have microorganisms crawling around on your chompers, but without adequate saliva production, the build-up of bacteria can cause tooth decay, making dry mouth one of the most prominent risk factors for developing cavities.
People who suffer from dry mouth have a very hard time with things most people take for granted.
-They have a hard time eating
-The ability to taste foods is reduced
-Sometimes the gums and cheeks hurt
-Constantly drinking water (and urinating)
The list goes on and on…
If you don’t have dry mouth, try to eat 10 small pretzels without water.
For a normal person, eating 10 pretzels without water simulates what it is like to eat when you suffer from dry mouth.
There are lots of causes of dry mouth, and the most prominent causes include:
-Many prescription and nonprescription drugs have dry mouth as a common side effect
-Drugs used to treat depression, anxiety, pain, allergies, colds, and hypertension are known for their dry mouth side effects.
Diseases and Infections
-Reduced saliva flow can be a side effect to several medical conditions such as HIV/AIDS, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, arthritis, anemia, and hypertension.
-Another syndrome is Sjogrens syndrome. Dry eye and dry mouth are the main issue.
-The salivary glands that make saliva can experience damage during certain medical treatments such as radiation to the head or neck and chemotherapy treatment for cancer. Glands can become damaged and stop functioning.
-Nerve damage to the head or neck area could result in dry mouth due to damage to the brain signaling pathways the tell the salivary glands to ‘turn on’.
-Conditions that lead to dehydration such as excessive sweating, fever, vomiting, diarrhea, blood loss, and burns can cause dry mouth
-Foods containing caffeine can reduce saliva flow.
-Salty foods can make the mouth feel very dry (remember the handful of pretzels?)
Smoking / Tobacco Use
-These products can affect how much saliva you make and aggravate dry mouth
-The act of smoking itself can cause dry mouth as you are inhaling a dry heated smoke.
What are the risks of dry mouth? As mentioned before, the lack of saliva production in the mouth can cause bacteria to latch onto your teeth. Then when you eat foods, the simple sugars and carbohydrates that get stuck in the nooks and crannys of your teeth feed the bacteria. The bacteria eat the food/plaque, make more bacteria and you get even more plaque buildup! When bacteria poop out all the stuff they are eating (sugars/carbs/etc) the poop is acidic. The acid/plaque combo is what leads to serious rapid tooth decay.
Besides rampant tooth decay, dry mouth can also lead to sore gums and cheeks (or mucosa). it’s called ‘mucositis’. basically your mouth hurts. Seriously, if you don’t have dry mouth, try to eat 10 small pretzels without water. that’s how many people eat every meal.
Preventing and treating dry mouth:
-If you feel as if your dry mouth is being caused by certain medications, you should talk to your prescribing physician. They might recommend an adjustment to your dosage or switch you to a different drug that may not cause dry mouth. It’s a long shot but it’s worth a discussion with your doctor.
-try ACT mouth rinse “for dry mouth”. it’s in a white bottle. Here’s a picture.
-Find products that have “xylitol” in them. many gums like trident use this as well as a lozenge called ‘xylamint’, or ‘spry’. xylitol is extremely helpful for dry mouth.
-Chew sugar-free gum or suck on sugar-free candy to improve salivary flow.
-Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water to keep the mouth moist
– limit breathing through your mouth in risk of causing it to dry out
-Try an over-the-counter artificial saliva substitute (Biotene is a major brand)
-Do not smoke or chew tobacco products
-If all else fails, some people even use oils like flaxseed oil or olive oil to help with dry mouth. Seriously! it helps! If you don’t have it you can’t appreciate how much of an issue it is.
Many people would rather taste olive oil ALL DAY than suffer dry mouth and it’s consequences.
All in all, dry mouth is a common problem. Luckily it’s pretty treatable with knowledge, prevention, and some therapeutics! If you are experiencing dry mouth, consult your dentist for help.
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