Things you need to know about dry mouth

By admin

Dry mouth is a common problem of reduced saliva flow in the oral cavity. Caused by many medications, certain diseases, and stress, dry mouth can lead to dental problems, including tooth decay and gum infection. Keeping the mouth moist and clean is vital to good oral health.

The importance of saliva

Saliva coats and lubricates tissues in the mouth. Saliva helps cleanse the mouth and begins the digestive process with chewing. A healthy mouth produces about three pints of saliva every day to begin the digestive process on food that is eaten to prevent fungi (“candidiasis”) growth, and to help prevent bacterial growth.

Saliva constantly bathes your teeth and washes away sugars and food particles to help prevent tooth decay and gingivitis. Saliva also helps to replace minerals in the tooth enamel to strengthen the enamel against cavities.

Note: salivary flow stops during sleep (otherwise, we would awake up in a pile of drool on our pillow), so it is particularly important to brush and floss before bedtime to prevent decay.

Effects of dry mouth

Dryness of the mouth results from an inadequate flow of saliva. Drying irritates the soft tissues in the mouth, which can make them inflamed and more susceptible to infection. Severe dry mouth can promote the growth of harmful organisms. Without the cleansing and shielding effects of adequate salivary flow, caries (tooth decay) and periodontal (gum) disease become much more common.

Constant dryness and the lack of protection provided by saliva contribute to bad breath. Dry mouth also causes dentures to become less comfortable because there is no thin film of saliva to help them adhere properly to oral tissues.

Causes of dry mouth
An inadequate flow of saliva is caused by a variety of reasons, including many medications, stress, and certain diseases. It is a common misconception that xerostomia is an “old folks” disease. Dry mouth can occur at any age.

It is true many older adults have xerostomia, but it is not a normal part of the aging process. Rather, it is related to certain diseases and certain medications. Dry mouth is found in anxiety disorders, diabetes, diet deficiencies, stroke, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, Sjogren’s disease, HIV-disease, Hepatitis C infection, and can be a result of radiation therapy.
Xerostomia can also occur from dehydration, when not consuming enough water, from snoring or breathing with one’s mouth open, and during a fever with excessive sweating. Occurrence of dry mouth is also caused by stress, when an individual is excessively nervous or upset.

The most common cause of xerostomia is medication use, both prescribed and over-the-counter. Those wonderful meds taken to ease allergies (systemic antihistamines), to relieve pain (NSAIDS, anti-inflammatory meds), to reduce obesity, to thin the blood (daily aspirin), or to lower blood pressure (anti-hypertensives and diuretics) are just a few of the many medications taken that cause dry mouth. Xerostomia is a side effect of over 400 known medications.

What can be done?

There are numerous saliva substitutes on the market that can be prescribed, but artificial saliva is not a perfect substitute for natural saliva, which is complex physically and chemically.

Most patients prefer sipping water to using a saliva substitute, since artificial saliva benefits are short lived. Not only is water sipping the most cost-effective means of improving oral moisture in the short-term, it has the added advantage of contributing to improved hydration.

The good news is there are several easy things that can be done at home to improve a dry mouth, including:

• Sip water continually during the day. Having a water bottle with a straw-type top is ideal.
• Avoid sugared drinks.
• Suck on ice chips.
• Chew sugar-free gum (Gum sweetened with xylitol, has been shown to reduce cavities).
• Suck on sugar-free candy.
• Add gravies, sauces, broth and salad dressing to your food.     Eat foods with a high liquid content, like pudding, yogurt, and fruit sauces.
• Eat more hard cheese.
• Avoid sweets of any kind.
• Avoid alcoholic beverages and drinks that contain caffeine.
• Avoid dental products that contain alcohol, which are most mouthwashes. Check the labels for non-alcohol ingredients.
• Use a mist humidifier while you sleep.
• Don’t smoke or chew tobacco.
• Brush two to four times a day and gently floss once or twice each day.
• Use a fluoride rinse daily to prevent decay.
• Use fluoridated toothpaste that is free of sodium lauryl sulfate (a detergent used as a foaming agent in most commercial toothpastes).
• Use a prescription-strength topical fluoride – which may be delivered in custom fluoride trays or in a brush-on preparation.
Dry mouth is a common problem, but with early and ongoing treatment, serious dental and oral disease can be prevented. I have had many patients with severe xerostomia who have stayed in excellent oral health by using the above tips, particularly regular water sipping and good oral hygiene habits.

The most important thing you can do for yourself is to get regular dental checkups. The assessment of salivary gland function should be a routine part of initial and ongoing evaluation of every patient. The earlier dental problems are identified and intervened, the better for you, your overall health and your happiness.

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