20 Feb 2016
February 20, 2016

How Dry Mouth Affects Your Oral Health

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As its name indicates, dry mouth, or xerostomia, is a condition that occurs when you do not generate as much saliva as normal. Dry mouth has many causes, from medical conditions to certain medications. It is surprisingly common, but should be treated as soon as possible.

How Dry Mouth Affects Your Oral Health

Symptoms of Dry Mouth

If you have ever suddenly needed a drink of water before speaking in public or taking a high stakes test, you are familiar with the earliest symptoms of dry mouth. Transient dry mouth is a very common reaction to anxiety. The sticky and uncomfortable feeling normally subsides as the anxiety passes.

If dry mouth becomes chronic, it can lead to constant thirst, cracking or chapping of the lips and corners of the mouth, and a tingling or burning sensation in the mouth and throat. Other symptoms include a raw tongue, difficulty speaking or swallowing, hoarseness, and a sore throat, as well as persistent bad breath.

Causes of Dry Mouth

Dry mouth is associated with a long list of possible causes. Besides anxiety, one of the most common reasons for dry mouth is medication. It has been implicated as a side effect of many of the most popular treatments for depression and anxiety, colds and allergies, asthma, gastrointestinal disorders, obesity, psychiatric conditions, hypertension, and numerous other illnesses. If you are on any medications, be sure to let your dentist know, as it can make diagnosing your dry mouth much easier.

Dry mouth is also a side effect of several chronic medical conditions including, but not limited to, diabetes, HIV/AIDS, rheumatoid arthritis, cystic fibrosis, and hypertension. It is also a common side effect of such medical treatments as radiation and chemotherapy.

Dehydration is a common cause for dry mouth as well. If you have a fever, excessive sweating, burns, or persistent vomiting, you may experience short-term dry mouth.

Smokers, those who use chewing tobacco, and people who regularly breathe with their mouths open are also at higher risk for dry mouth. These activities cause saliva to evaporate and irritate the delicate tissues of the mouth and throat.

Oral Health Concerns from Dry Mouth

Saliva plays a crucial role in oral health. It rinses food particles and bacteria from the mouth, neutralizes acid, and begins the digestive process. Over time, untreated dry mouth can throw off the bacterial balance in your mouth, increase your risks for gum disease and tooth decay, and make it more likely for you to develop mouth infections such as thrush. It can also make dentures more uncomfortable and difficult to wear.

Treating Dry Mouth

Fortunately, dry mouth can be treated through a combination of lifestyle changes and prescription medications. If an underlying condition is causing your dry mouth, it is important to clear it up. For example, your doctor might switch you to a different medication or aggressively treat your chronic illness.

For at-home care, focus on stimulating as much saliva production as possible. Suck on sugar free hard candy or chew sugar free gum. Sip water throughout the day to prevent dehydration and moisten your mouth. Use a vaporizer or humidifier to increase the humidity level in your bedroom. Consciously try to breathe through your nose instead of your mouth. Carefully brush your teeth twice a day with a fluoridated toothpaste to minimize oral damage.

If needed, your dentist will prescribe an oral rinse designed to increase the overall moisture level in your mouth. Another option is a prescription drug that stimulates saliva production.

Dry mouth is a common but annoying medical condition with a long list of possible causes. It is important to treat it as soon as possible to reduce the risk of tooth decay, gum disease, and oral infections. With proper treatment and simple lifestyle changes, however, there is no reason for dry mouth to continue to affect your life.

AtFamily Dental Care of Bellevue, we are committed to providing quality dental care to our patients and their families. We are proud to have been voted one of the best dental offices in Washington State. If you are ready to take the first steps toward improving your dental health, we invite you to call 425-643-5778 today to make an appointment for your initial consultation.

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