You wake up and you feel as though you have cotton stuffed in your mouth. Through out the day, you’re constantly drinking water, trying to fight off a feeling of dryness in your mouth. If you notice a decrease in saliva, persistent bad breath or an increase in teeth and gum problems, you may be suffering from dry mouth. While everyone’s mouth gets a bit dry from time to time, if you are noticing dryness often, it can be a big problem.
Dry mouth isn’t a natural part of getting older, even though many older people have it. It’s often connected to certain medications. In fact, more than 400 medications have dry mouth as a side effect, according to the National Institutes of Health. Dry mouth is treatable, and if you experience it often, it may be worth your while to see a dentist or doctor about it. Left untreated, it can lead to oral problems such as gum disease, tooth decay and certain infections.
What Causes It
The simple explanation for dry mouth is that the saliva glands aren’t working as they should be and aren’t producing enough saliva to keep the mouth lubricated. A number of factors can interfere with the function of the glands. For whatever reason, many drugs or medications disrupt the glands, causing them to produce an insufficient amount of saliva. Drugs that can lead to dry mouth include medications that treat high blood pressure, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s and depression.
Certain conditions or diseases can also cause dry mouth. It’s a common symptom of diabetes, for example, and of an autoimmune disorder known as Sjogren’s syndrome. People with HIV/AIDS may also suffer from dry mouth. Direct damage to the nerves that control the salivary glands can also cause it.
Is It a Big Deal?
Persistent dry mouth can be a big deal. It’s not only irritating, it can affect the health of your mouth. Common signs of it include a feeling of dryness in the mouth, bad breath and trouble eating. If you do produce saliva, it’s often very thick. You might notice that it’s difficult to swallow or speak, and that certain foods taste different than they once did.
Saliva plays an important role in keeping your teeth, gums and mouth clean. It’s the first step in digestion, as it starts to break down the food you eat. Saliva also plays a big role in protecting your teeth from decay and cavities, as it rinses food and bacteria away from your teeth. You also need to it to chew and swallow your food with ease.
What Happens If It’s Not Treated
If you have dry mouth, it’s important to see someone about treating it. Even though it seems like a small issue, or just a nuisance, it can have a major impact on your health. For one thing, not producing enough saliva can affect what you eat. You might be less inclined to eat a healthy diet or find that you don’t have much of an appetite if chewing or swallowing is difficult.
Left untreated, dry mouth also increases your risk for gum disease and decay. Plaque, which is ordinarily swept away by saliva, is left to build up on the teeth and gums, where it can harden into tartar. The bacteria that contribute to gum disease also thrive in a dry mouth.
How dry mouth is treated depends on the cause of it. If medication is contributing to the condition, the best option might be to change the drug or adjust the dose. There are also medications that help the glands produce saliva. If your dry mouth is related to a lack of saliva production or a disfunction of your salivary glands, your dentist or drug might give you medicine that stimulates the glands.
Another option is to try to artificially produce saliva. There are mouthwashes or rinses available that help moisturize the mouth, for example. You can also try to chew sugar-free gum or suck on sugar-free hard candies to encourage saliva production.
Along with treating the underlying cause of the dry mouth, you can also take steps to minimize its signs. Certain foods and drinks dry out the mouth, such as alcohol or caffeinated beverages. Foods with a lot of salt in them can also contribute to dryness.
If you are concerned about the effect dry mouth might be having on your gums, or if you are showing signs gum disease, such as bleeding gums, that may be connected to dry mouth, it’s a good idea to see a periodontist.
In the Miami area, Dr. John Paul Gallardo can examine your teeth and gums and let your know the best course of action. Call (305) 447-1447 today to schedule an appointment.