What to Know About Dry Mouth

By Premier Dental of Ohio

Dry Mouth can lead to bigger dental health issues

The mouth should not be dry. The tissues lining the inside of the mouth require moisture from saliva in order to function properly. When the mouth is dry, a whole host of other problems arise.  We should never ignore a dry mouth.  

This blog aims to help you understand the causes, effects, and remedies for dry mouth so that you can help any loved ones who are suffering and be well prepared if your own mouth becomes dry.

What is Dry Mouth?

Dry mouth is a condition in which a lack of saliva causes the inside of the mouth to become dry. This lack of saliva creates a loss of moisture in the soft tissues that line the inside of the mouth. Dry mouth may cause these soft tissues to stick to the teeth.  It can also make chewing and swallowing food more difficult. A dry mouth also tends to smell bad, so bad breath is a consistent sign of a dry mouth.

It may sound strange, but many people have a dry mouth and remain unaware of it. If the problem develops gradually over time, you could actually miss it completely.  Your dentist knows what the inside of the mouth should look and feel like and will be able to tell you if your mouth feels dry.

What Causes Dry Mouth?

There are multiple causes of dry mouth, and many people will actually have a combination of two or more of these causes. It is important to identify the potential causes so that you can address them as you work to treat dry mouth.

Prescription Medications

By far, the most common cause of dry mouth in American adults is prescription medications.  Countless medications have dry mouth as a side effect. The effect worsens when multiple medications are combined. This is often the case when patients have problems like high blood pressure or depression. The combination of medications amplifies the dry mouth effect.

Some over-the-counter medications also cause dry mouth as a side effect. Typically, these are medications used to treat allergies and sinus congestion.  If you combine OTC antihistamines with prescription medications, the dry mouth effect can be severe.

Mouth Breathing

People who suffer from nasal congestion or blockage often compensate for it by breathing through the mouth. The constant flowing in and out of air that mouth breathing produces has a drying effect on the inside of the mouth.  

This is typically worst overnight during sleep. If you wake with your mouth open and feeling extremely dry, you can assume that you have slept with your mouth open for breathing purposes.  If this happens every night, you should worry about the drying effect inside the mouth and take steps to remedy it.

Dehydration

Dry mouth is a lack of the right amount of saliva inside the mouth. In order for the body to produce saliva, it must have an adequate water supply. When the body suffers from dehydrations, it will conserve water in every way possible, including a halt in the production of saliva.  

The good news is that dehydration is probably the simplest cause of dry mouth to reverse. As you rehydrate, the production of saliva should resume, returning the inside of the mouth to a more normal state.

Cancer Treatments

One very unfortunate cause of dry mouth is cancer treatments, especially those involving radiation to the head and/or neck regions. Cancer treatments are improving every day, but radiation that touches salivary glands will harm them and impair their ability to produce saliva.  Patients who have received radiation often suffer from extreme dry mouth.  

Sadly, the damage is usually permanent, so their bodies are unable to make saliva in the future. This type of dry mouth requires diligent involvement of both your dentist and medical doctor.

Autoimmune Diseases

One autoimmune disease in particular, called Sjögren’s Disease, causes severe dry mouth and dry eyes.  In this autoimmune disorder, the body goes haywire and attacks its own salivary and lacrimal glands. The symptoms of Crohn’s Disease also include dry mouth.

Autoimmune disorders are difficult to treat and require the intervention of an immunologist. Your dentist can help you manage the symptoms that affect the mouth.

Why is Dry Mouth a Problem?

Dry mouth is a big deal.  In addition to the bad breath it can cause, it actually carries serious consequences for the health of the mouth. The lack of saliva in a dry mouth means you miss out on all of the benefits of healthy saliva. Saliva fights the bacteria that cause cavities and gum disease, and it provides the lubrication necessary for the prevention of injuries to the soft tissues.  

Increased Risk for Cavities

Saliva is a natural defense weapon against cavities in several different ways. It contains enzymes that fight cavity-causing bacteria, it physically flushes away plaque buildup, and it contains minerals that re-harden the enamel after a drop in pH damages it.  

When you do not have enough saliva, the bacteria are stronger. A dry mouth makes it easier for the plaque to stick to the teeth, and it makes the plaque more difficult for you to remove. When your teeth suffer acid attacks, you do not have the minerals to replenish the sites that receive damage.  All of these factor together to increase the risk for cavities in a dry mouth.

Increased Risk for Gum Disease

The increased risk for gum disease in a dry mouth is also due to a loss of the benefits of healthy saliva. Increased plaque buildup that is harder for the patient to remove makes gum disease more aggressive. Research studies show that a dry mouth is more likely to contain different types of bacteria that cause gum disease to worsen faster than those in a healthy mouth do.

More dental plaque that contains more aggressive bacteria and is more difficult to remove greatly increases your risk for gum disease.

Greater Prevalence of Mouth Sores and Ulcers

Another important purpose of saliva is to lubricate the tissues lining the inside of the mouth. As we talk and chew, there should be fluid movement of the tissues over the teeth.  Without saliva’s lubrication, the cheeks, lips and tongue do not “get out of the way” as easily, so injuries are common. Biting the cheeks, lips and tongue can lead to painful ulcers and sores. These sores can also develop as a result of friction between the teeth and tissues.

What Can I Do for Dry Mouth?

As we mentioned earlier, it is so important to recognize dry mouth so that you can intervene and prevent the problems it can cause. Obviously, your dentist will be able to give you personalized recommendations about managing your dry mouth and protecting your oral health. Here are some general steps that you can begin taking to remedy your dry mouth now.

Stay Hydrated

In order for your body to make saliva, you have to provide it with an adequate supply of water. It’s important to understand that most other beverages actually lead to dehydration.  Anything containing caffeine, alcohol, or large amounts of sugar will actually dehydrate you. Try to consume plenty of plain water or drinks that are decaffeinated, alcohol-free, and sugar-free.

More Questions about Dry Mouth?

Call your nearest Premier Dental of Ohio location today to ask specific questions about which treatment options we provide.  Across all of our offices, we offer the full range of treatments for helping our patients solve and maintain a clean, healthy mouth.

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