Dry mouth and the problems that come with it

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Written by Dr Amrita Jain

June 9, 2021

Saliva helps keeping your mouth healthy. Lack of saliva in our mouth or abnormal decrease in saliva is called dry mouth or Xerostomia. We know saliva majorly helps in softening the food and forming a bolus making it easy to swallow, lubrication of the oral cavity so as to prevent any injuries caused by friction during chewing, neutralizes the acids in the mouth and acts as a solvent for taste stimuli. But does saliva prevent tooth cavities? Yes ! It surely contributes to preventing tooth decay.

What happens without enough saliva in your mouth?

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Reduced salivary flow may cause difficulty in speech, swallowing and digestion or permanent mouth and throat disorders and also some dental problems. Reduction in the salivary flow, may cause an unpleasant feeling in your mouth and you would want to consume more liquids. Your mouth might seem a little sticky and you may experience difficulty in swallowing or talking due to decreased lubrication.

You may also notice your tongue feeling rough and dry which may lead to a burning sensation and gradual loss of taste sensations. Subsequently it makes your gums look pale and bleed and swell up and also cause sores to form in your mouth. Dry mouth consequently leads to bad breath as lack of saliva is unable to flush out all the residual bacteria.

Patients suffering from dry mouth also complain of dry nasal passages, dry corners of the mouth and a dry and itchy throat. Furthermore, decrease in salivation can lead to dental decay and various periodontal conditions.

How dry mouth can affect your teeth and gums?

You may notice sometimes the food stuck on your teeth disappears after sometime. For example when you have a piece of chocolate. This is because saliva dissolves the remnants left behind on the tooth surface and helps flush out the food particles. Lack of saliva can make your teeth more prone to tooth decay and there will be more plaque and tar tar build up around the gums and teeth causing gum infections. Also saliva contains anti bacterial properties and helps get rid of bad bacteria in the mouth. Absence if saliva can make your mouth prone to oral diseases.

What makes your mouth feel dry?

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Dehydration : The most obvious and common cause of dry mouth is dehydration. Decrease in the overall water content causes a decrease in the production of saliva in the oral cavity.

Breathing from your mouth :Some people have a habit of breathing through their mouth instead of the nose. This makes your mouth dry as it is always kept open. Wearing a mask may also cause breathing difficulties and you may habitually start breathing from your mouth.

Sports activities : Athletes are more prone to mouth breathing which makes them susceptible to dry mouth. Wearing sports guards and habit breaking appliances can prevent the consequences.

Prescription medications : Diuretics, pain killers, BP medication, antidepressants, anti-histamines, asthma drugs, muscle relaxants as well as over the counter medications like decongestants and medication for allergies and cold can have dry mouth as side effects. Patients with diabetes experience dry mouth and their consequences because of fluctuations in their sugar levels as well as prescribed medications.

Chemotherapy or radiation therapy : These treatments cause your saliva to thicken creating an effect like dry mouth or damage the salivary gland ducts cause a decreased amount of saliva flow.

Damage to the salivary glands or their nerves: One of the serious causes of Xerostomia is a damage to the nerves carrying messages to and from the brain to the salivary glands. As a result, the glands are unaware of when to produce saliva which leads to a drying up of the oral cavity.

Tobacco in any form : Apart from these causes, smoking cigars, cigarettes, pipe or any other tobacco related products in combination with any of the above symptoms can also aggravate the effects of dry mouth.

Covid and dry mouth

Patients suffering from covid-19 usually experience dry mouth. Some people notice dry mouth along with loss of taste as the first symptom of covid. Taking the necessary precautions during this time is a must. Hydrate with drinking plenty of water. Use a mouthwash for dry mouth. People suffering from covid and dry mouth also experience ulcerations in the mouth. Avoid eating spicy foods during this time.

How to know if you have dry mouth?

A visit to a medical professional professional can easily help you resolve the issue of a dry mouth. If medication isn’t the cause, the doctor would be able to help you unearth the specific medical condition affecting your oral health.

Dry mouth is not an emergency situation and many a times it may go unnoticed. But regular dental visits may help you identify dry mouth and prevent its consequences. You can also tele consult your dentist.

Dental tips for dry mouth

It may sound cliché, but brushing and gargling after every meal is a must. This will prevent the food sticking around and lessen your chances of bad breath. Use a toothpaste that does not cause any burning sensation in your mouth. Make sure to rinse your mouth at least at times when brushing immediately after a meal is not feasible. Simply sipping water throughout the day and using an alcohol free antiseptic will prove quite effective in helping you maintain your oral wellness and fighting off most harsh effects of dry mouth.

Apart from these, if your dentist sees fit, they might ask you to chew a few sugar free lozenges, candy or gum; preferably lemon flavoured which may help to increase the saliva production and in return give you relief from the side effects of dry mouth.

Highlights

  • Dry mouth is when your salivary glands are not able to produce enough saliva.
  • Dry mouth makes your mouth more susceptible to oral infections and tooth decay.
  • People suffering from covid-19 usually experience dry mouth and should be aware of the consequences.
  • Dry mouth can also affect your gums and lead to gum infections like gingivitis and periodontitis.
  • Drinking plenty of water, avoid eating spicy food and using a non alcoholic mouthwash can help you cure dry mouth.

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Dr. Amrita Jain is a practicing dental surgeon since 4 years. She completed her B.D.S in 2016 and was has been a rank holder throughout her course. She suggests “Holistic dentistry is the best dentistry”. Her treatment line follows a conservative pattern which means saving a tooth is of utmost priority and preventing your teeth from getting decayed rather than curing it with a root canal treatment. She inculcates the same while consulting her patients. Apart from her interest in clinical practice, she has developed interest in research and writing over a period of time. She states “It is my clinical experience that motivates me to write and spread dental awareness”. Her articles are well researched with a combination of technical knowledge and clinical experience.
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