Dry mouth is more than annoying. If you have persistent dry mouth, it can cause a whole range of other dental health problems, including gingivitis, cavities, and more. Luckily, there are treatments to alleviate dry mouth, so if you’re having issues, make sure to talk to your dentist about it.
Does dry mouth matter?
Yes. First of all, dry mouth often causes bad breath. But beyond torturing the people around you, dry mouth can also affect your oral health. The reason for that is that saliva is the mouth’s natural defense system.
Your mouth is designed to have a constant flow of saliva. In fact, the average person generates nearly 1.5 L of saliva per day—almost the same volume as a full carton of milk—and that daily total is even more impressive when you consider that saliva production pretty much shuts off when you go to sleep at night.
When saliva isn’t flowing properly, the mouth becomes prone to infection. Oral tissues dry out and crack, acids and sugars remain on your teeth and gums, and bacteria start attacking everything in sight. For those reasons, dry mouth can lead to tooth decay, gum infections, thrush, and a whole host of other complications.
Prescription drugs: #1 cause of dry mouth
The no. 1 cause of dry mouth is medication. Over 50% of Americans take some kind of prescription drug daily—and for seniors, it’s over 90%. It is well known that many medications cause dry mouth (here is a PDF list). In fact, all of the top 10 most prescribed drugs in America have dry mouth listed as a side effect.
However, that doesn’t mean you need to suffer through it. Often, your symptoms can be relieved by making adjustments to your medication. Talk to your dentist—we can consult with your doctor or pharmacist to come up with some possible alternatives.
Other causes of dry mouth
There are also a number of reasons for dry mouth that have nothing to do with medication. Just because you’re not taking medication doesn’t mean your dry mouth isn’t worth mentioning. Bring it up with your dentist—it’s better to be safe than sorry. Here are some of the top non-pharmaceutical reasons:
- Autoimmune diseases
- Nerve damage
- Depression or mood changes
Treatments for dry mouth
The first line of defense in treating dry mouth is to try drinking more water. If that hasn’t worked for you, it may be necessary to adjust the doses or types of any medications you are taking. Other treatments include:
- Chewing sugar-free gum to stimulate saliva flow
- Fluoride treatment, either with a prescription toothpaste or fluoride trays
- Over-the-counter saliva substitutes
- Placing a vaporizer in the room to reduce dehydration
- Medications that stimulate saliva production, such as Salagen
The bottom line is that there are steps you can take to counteract dry mouth. There’s no reason for you to keep suffering. Talk to your dentist today about the treatment options that are right for you.
- Bardow, A. et al. (2001). “Relationships between medication intake, complaints of dry mouth, salivary flow rate and composition, and the rate of tooth demineralization in situ.” Archives of Oral Biology.
- Mayo Clinic. (n.d.). Dry mouth.
- Scully, C. (2005). “Oral Medicine — Update for the dental practitioner: Dry mouth and disorders of salivation.” British Dental Journal.
- Turner, M.D. et al. (2007). “Dry Mouth and Its Effects on the Oral Health of Elderly People.” Journal of the American Dental Association.