Dry mouth can be damaging to your oral health: Here’s what you need to know
Not only is dry mouth annoying, but it can also wreak havoc on your teeth. We have solutions.
We often experience a parched mouth when we’re nervous or stressed, but if your yapper frequently feels like the Sahara Desert, you might be a chronic dry mouth sufferer. Lots of things can cause dry mouth, including some of the medications you might take and certain illnesses. Unfortunately, dry mouth can lead to tooth decay and fungal infections if it’s not managed. Thankfully, you can take preventive measures to keep your whistle wet and your mouth healthy.
“Your saliva acts like a buffer,” said Tyler Ames, D.M.D. of Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s Oral Health Team. “It controls the pH in your mouth. Without it, your mouth’s mini bio environment goes to the acidic level because it doesn’t have that saliva to protect it.”
Ames gives us the details on what causes dry mouth, what it can lead to, and how to combat it.
Why do I always have a dry mouth?
There are many causes of dry mouth, but the medication you take could be the culprit. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that more than 400 commonly used medications can cause dry mouth. Medications that list dry mouth as a common side effect include those taken for depression, anxiety, hypertension, obesity, urinary incontinence, epilepsy, ADHD, asthma, pain and more.
Some medical conditions also cause dry mouth. Examples include Sjögren’s syndrome, diabetes, HIV, certain thyroid conditions and more. Patients undergoing radiation for head or neck cancer may experience extreme dry mouth, as well, Ames said.
Drinking coffee or sugary beverages too frequently can also dry us out.
Why is dry mouth a bad thing?
“Bacteria adhere to the side of the teeth and form colonies called plaque,” Ames explains. “They like an acidic environment, and they produce their own acid.” If the plaque sits on your teeth, it will wear away at the enamel and eventually form a cavity. It will then continue to produce more bacteria and cause more erosion. “So if you have a dry mouth, you have a much higher risk for cavities because the bacteria like the environment.”
Dry mouth can also put you at risk for developing fungal infections like oral thrush (also called oropharyngeal candidiasis). “Just like in any other part of your body, there is good bacteria and bad bacteria,” Ames said. “And the more the mouth goes acidic, the more the bad bacteria or bad fungus propagates.” A telltale sign of thrush is experiencing creamy white bumps on your tongue or other surfaces of your mouth. If you suspect you have oral thrush, talk to your doctor.
How do you get rid of a dry mouth?
“Water is absolutely the best thing,” Ames said. “Stay hydrated.” That might seem like an obvious answer, but in addition to wetting your mouth, water can also protect your teeth. Water helps bring the pH of your mouth back up after eating acidic foods or drinking acidic beverages. Avoid sugary drinks like sodas whenever possible, but if you do have a soda on occasion, rinse your mouth out with water afterwards.
Watch out for sneaky ways sugar can creep into your diet. Check labels on mixes or drops designed to flavor water or on flavored water drinks. If you’re going to be drinking something all day regularly, it’s a good idea to ask your dentist about whether it’s safe for your teeth, Ames recommends.
Sugar-free gum and sugar-free candies also work as dry mouth remedies. “They can stimulate saliva flow,” Ames said. “And gum can help reduce bacterial adhesion to the side of the tooth.” Many of these items have sugar alcohol as a flavoring, but he said that’s OK for your teeth, as long as the item is sugar-free.
Follow instructions on medication inserts. You should rinse your mouth out after using an asthma inhaler, for example.
If you continue to experience dry mouth or your symptoms are extreme, talk to your dentist. “Sometimes medications or baking soda mouth rinses will be recommended,” Ames said. Never hesitate to ask your oral health professional about a concern.