What is dry mouth, what are common causes and how can it complicate oral health issues? Our Edmonton dentists answer these questions and more, and offer tips on prevention and treatment.
What is dry mouth?
We each have hundreds of minor salivary glands and three sets of major salivary glands that produce saliva for our mouths. But for various reasons, these salivary glands may underproduce, causing dry mouth (also referred to as xerostomia).
Saliva plays an essential role in our oral health. Besides helping your mouth to feel comfortable and moist, it provides minerals to tooth enamel, supports your mouth's soft and hard tissues and washes out food bacteria. These factors work together to help prevent cavities and gum disease.
If your mouth is dried out, you may notice you have problems speaking, swallowing or chewing, so it's important to see your dentist for advice and remedies.
What causes dry mouth?
Did you know that medical conditions, prescription drugs and other things can affect your salivary glands, and therefore cause dry mouth? Generally, anything that dehydrates you (causing you to visit the bathroom fore frequently) will increase dry mouth symptoms. Things that hydrate you (such as drinking plenty of water) will decrease your symptoms.
There are a few risk factors that can contribute to dry mouth. Causes can include:
- Medications (over-the-counter and prescription)
- Drinking alcohol
- Sjogren's syndrome, diabetes, and other chronic health conditions
- Consuming caffeine
- Advanced age
- A history of radiation therapy
- Nerve damage
What are potential complications of dry mouth?
While dry mouth can cause discomfort, it can also affect oral health since saliva contributes to healthy teeth, gums and mouth. Chronic dry mouth can cause numerous risks to your oral health, including:
- A sticky, dry feeling in the mouth
- Cracked lips or split skin at the corners of the mouth
- Problems speaking, chewing and swallowing
- Tooth and root cavities
- Food and drinks taste "off"
- Frequent thirst
- Mouth sores
- Infections in the mouth, such as thrush
- Dry nasal passages
- Gum disease (gingivitis and periodontitis)
- Dentures do not easily attach to your gums
- Bad breath (halitosis)
- Sore or dry feeling in the throat
- A scratchy voice or hoarseness
- A tingling or burning sensation in the mouth, especially on the tongue
- Tongue is red, raw, dry
Preventing Dry Mouth
While our dentists at Azarko Dental Group can work with you to address risk factors for dry mouth, it's preferable to take steps to prevent the condition since dry mouth can lead to other dental issues. Here are some measures to consider taking for dry mouth prevention to decrease your chances of developing related dental problems:
- Limiting or eliminating caffeine (colas, teas, coffees, drinks containing chocolate) or alcohol consumption
- Brushing your teeth for two minutes twice daily using a soft-bristled toothbrush and using floss or an interdental cleaner once a day to clean between your teeth
- Using a toothpaste that contains fluoride
- Asking your doctor or health professional about alternatives to medications that cause dry mouth (do not change medication or dosage on your own)
- Scheduling regular dental checkups with our Edmonton dentists (at least once every 6 months) to monitor oral health and address any potential issues.
Treating Dry Mouth
Your dentist may recommend different treatment options for dry mouth depending on what is causing your issue. Treatment generally focuses on three areas:
- Managing other medical conditions
- Increasing salivary flow, if possible with medication or other measures
- Using a moisturizer on your lips
- Preventing tooth decay
Your dentist may also prescribe an oral rinse to restore moisture in your mouth. These products are available over the counter in spray or rinse form. There are also moisturizing gels, mouthwashes and toothpastes specially formulated to address dry mouth; ask your dentist about them.
To manage dry mouth, you might consider limiting salty or spicy foods, as these can cause pain in a dry mouth. When you brush your teeth, use your soft-bristled toothbrush on your teeth and gums and rinse your mouth with plain water or mild mouth rinse before and after meals (8 ounces of water, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda).