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A Dry Mouth Deserves Attention

Does your mouth ever feel dry? Almost everyone experiences this sensation, which can stem from any number of conditions. This condition may seem innocent enough, but it can cause dental problems.

Besides making your mouth uncomfortable, not having enough saliva can affect your oral health. You need good saliva flow to lubricate your oral tissues, cleanse your mouth of food particles, neutralize acid from plaque bacteria, and help the digestive process.

Not having enough saliva in your mouth can put you at risk for tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease. If not treated, gum disease can lead to more serious oral health complications, such as swollen or bleeding gums, loose teeth, or even tooth loss.

Stress, anxiety, or nervousness can trigger brief periods of dry mouth. There are more than 400 medications, both prescription and over-the-counter, that list dry mouth as a side effect, including allergy medicines, blood pressure medications, and antidepressants.

Cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy or radiation may also experience dry mouth because the treatment causes either a decrease in salivary secretion or thicker saliva. Other culprits include salivary gland disease, diabetes, hormonal alterations during pregnancy and menopause, and aging.

Increasing your fluid intake may moisten your mouth. Other recommendations include:

  • Sipping water or sugarless drinks

  • Chewing sugarless gum or sucking on sugarless candy to stimulate salivary flow

  • Using alcohol-free oral rinses

  • Avoiding tobacco, alcohol, and caffeinated beverages

  • Using a humidifier while you sleep if your mouth is dry at night

What if your dry mouth persists? Talk with your dentist about prescription saliva substitutes or medications that stimulate saliva. If a medication or herbal supplement is the cause, a different prescription might help. Ask your dentist if you should see a physician.

Because patients with dry mouth are prone to oral health complications, it is critical that they brush gently with a soft-bristled toothbrush at least twice a day, with special attention to the gum line, and gently floss at least once a day. It’s also important to see your dental professional regularly in an effort to avoid serious oral health problems.

“Dry Mouth.” American Dental Association. http://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/d/dry-mouth.aspx. Accessed 2013.

“Dry Mouth (Xerostomia).” National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, March 20, 2010. www.nidcr.nih.gov/OralHealth/Topics/DryMouth Accessed 2013.

“Dry Mouth.” National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, October 2012. www.nidcr.nih.gov/NR/rdonlyres/A22079A5-8C4C-4E6D-80C1-D6A1D2EB07F8/0/DryMouth.pdf Accessed 2013.

“Oral Health.” Office of Women’s Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. http://www.womenshealth.gov/health-topics/a-z-topic/pubs-orgs.cfm?topic=458 Accessed 2013.

“Gum Disease." American Dental Association. http://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/g/gum-disease.aspx. Accessed 2013.

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