Most people take saliva for granted, but saliva is necessary for proper digestion of food. Saliva also helps protect the mouth from dental decay, gum diseases and bad breath, because it has the natural ability to stop bacterial growth. Having a dry mouth can lead to a metallic taste in the mouth and the ability to taste food properly decreases. Saliva acts as a major defense mechanism that our bodies need to maintain good oral and systemic health.
Many people don’t realize they have dry mouth, otherwise known as xerostomia, and others find it debilitating. Regardless of whether you feel the effects or not, dry mouth can be very dangerous to your dental health. The most significant issues are rampant dental decay and gum disease.
So, what can cause dry mouth? There are multiple health related conditions and habits that can cause or add to a dry mouth, dry skin and general dryness of the entire body. One cause can be medications. There are over 3,000 prescription and over-the-counter products or medications that can cause dry mouth. You can be on a medication for years before the side effects show up. Dry mouth side effects can also last for a long time after you stop taking a medication.
What else can contribute to dry mouth? Here is a list: hypothyroidism, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, anemia, Sjogren’s Syndrome, chemo therapy, alcohol consumption, ineffective salivary glands, stress, Alzheimer’s Disease, Parkinson’s Disease, diabetes, allergies, vitamin deficiencies, hypertension, radiation therapy, menopause, depression, smoking, and last but not least, aging.
How do you know if you suffer from, or are at risk for dry mouth? Here are some questions to assess your risk: Has your physician or pharmacist shared with you that a medication you are taking can cause dry mouth? Do you find that you wake up in the middle of the night with a cough or have a choking feeling and need a drink of water? We produce at least 50% less saliva at night so the side effects are more intense.
Does your tongue feel rough or do you tend to get mouth sores? Does your tongue stick to the roof of your mouth? Do crunchy foods such as potato chips or crackers “scratch” your mouth? Do you have dry, cracked lips and cracks at the corners of your mouth? Do you have thick and sticky saliva? Are your eyes dry and eyes drops are relatively ineffective? Is your skin still dry after using moisturizing lotion?
If you have a positive response to any of these questions, you are at risk from the damaging effects of dry mouth. The first thing to do is to eliminate any of the things that I mentioned as potential causes that are in your control, such as alcohol consumption and tobacco use. I also recommend that patients stay away from alcohol-based mouth rinses, tartar control and whitening toothpastes.
You should also notify your physician and dentist that you have, or are at risk for, dry mouth. There are many products on the market that can be effective to help with the symptoms, and also help to protect your teeth and gums. In addition, there are other prescription products, such as high-fluoride toothpastes and anti-oxidant hydrating toothpastes, mouthwashes and gels that you can only get from your dentist or physician.
Please take dry mouth seriously. The effects aren’t only annoying, but can also ruin your mouth.
Dr. St. Clair maintains a private dental practice in Rowley and Newburyport dedicated to health-centered family dentistry. He has a special interest in treating sleep apnea and TMJ problems. If there are certain topics you would like to see written about or questions you have please email them to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.