Sunday, November 16, 2014

Is Dry Mouth More Than Just A Nuisance?

For those with chronic dry mouth (that feeling that there is not enough saliva in the mouth), they know it's more than a nuisance. The salivary glands are not working properly. Not only does it affect chewing, swallowing, enjoying certain foods, digestion and even speech, it also affects teeth.

Dry mouth (xerostomia) can cause cavities. Most people may experience dry mouth from time to time if they are nervous or under stress. However, dry mouth that is persistent is not normal, it is not part of aging and it is not good. The saliva in the mouth washes away food particles and acts as a neutralizer for the acids in the mouth that cause decay of tooth enamel. Without the necessary saliva, the propensity for teeth to get cavities is greater. Without saliva, the mouth is more prone to bacterial and fungal infections. Saliva also is important for re-mineralization of enamel and contains digestive enzymes.

Symptoms of xerostomia include a sticky, dry or burning feeling in the mouth. The throat may also feel dry and one has a feeling of being thirsty. Lips may crack and the tongue may feel dry and rough. Sometimes the person may have trouble chewing, swallowing, tasting or even speaking. There may be an infection in the mouth or mouth sores. And bad breath is prevalent.

Causes of xerostomia are most often from breathing through your mouth while sleeping or side effects of some medication. Other possibilities for these salivary glands not working properly are from diseases such as HIV/AIDS or diabetes, radiation therapy, chemotherapy or nerve damage. Smoking, chewing tobacco and consuming alcohol can also cause dry mouth.

There are a variety of treatments for xerostomia depending on the cause. If one sleeps on their back there are devices to help keep the mouth closed. They include a chin strap and an oral vestibular shield that prevents the mouth from opening. However, consciously flipping on the stomach or side may be all that is needed. A nightshirt with a tennis ball in a sock pinned on the back can even help.

If a person is on one of the 400 medications that can have dry mouth as a side effect, they should see a physician for possibly changing or adjusting the dosage of the meds. Some examples of commonly prescribed drugs that can cause dry mouth are those for high blood pressure, depression, allergies, acne, diarrhea, obesity and asthma.

A person with dry mouth can also improve their saliva flow by frequently sipping on water, sucking on sugar-free candy containing xylitol, using a room humidifier - especially in the bedroom, and purchasing over-the-counter artificial saliva products. A dentist can prescribe an oral rinse that often helps. In some cases, there are medications that are used to get salivary glands working properly again.

Since tooth decay is exacerbated with dry mouth, it is imperative to keep the teeth clean. Home dental cleaning at least twice a day is necessary. Avoiding sugar or high carbohydrates helps. Professional cleanings every three months are recommended. So, dry mouth is more than just a nuisance. It can be a pain in the tooth.

Dr. Piero, a Holland, MI dentist for over thirty years, is the inventor of Dental Air Force® ( Articles published are on periodontal health related to heart disease, respiratory health, diabetes, strokes, and other systemic diseases. He is the Executive Editor for Journal of Experimental Dental Science, a contributing author to Hospital Infection Control: Clinical Guidelines and soon-to-be published book, Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is.
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