Having a dry mouth may seem like a small issue. Most people don’t realize how important saliva is to your health. I am not talking about a little “cotton mouth” every once in a while when you wake up, or while doing exercise. I am talking about a consistent low level of saliva throughout the day and night. The medical term for this condition is called Xerostomia, and the damage it causes can be long lasting and permanent.
For most people, our teeth and gum tissues are bathed in Saliva throughout the day and night. That constant flow of saliva has many benefits. It can act as a buffer against acid attack from our food and drinks. It helps to wash away debris from on and around our teeth, and also fight against the bacteria that want to try to colonize on our teeth. When someone has persistent dry mouth, we don’t get those benefits, and often we find that the rate of decay on their teeth goes up very quickly. Many people also find that it can affect there speech, or that they get a burning sensation in the mouth because everything is so dry.
Dry mouth can be caused by many things, but the most often we see it as a side effect to other medications. The list of medications that have this side effect are too long to put here, but suffice it to say that are large portion of the most commonly prescribed are on that list. So why not just change medicines? The answer is that most of the time, the benefits of those medications outweighs this side effect. If a drug is helping someone stay healthy, or saving their life, I am not going to ask their M.D. to take them off of it. There are a couple of diseases that also cause dry mouth, including Sjorgren’s Syndrome, diabetes, and Lupus. People who have had extensive head or neck radiation are also often victims of dry mouth because there salivary glands have been affected.
Unfortunately, there is no magic way to fix this problem. People who have xerostomia battle it everyday. Most of the time, we hear patients tell us that they learn to deal with it over time. The most important thing we tell people is that is becomes extremely important that they are diligent in cleaning their mouths to keep that bacteria off the areas the saliva would normally help with. There are a few things that we recommend on a regular basis to try to fight against this process. Since we know that the lack of saliva allows the bacteria to break down tooth structure more quickly, we often recommend increases in fluoride for our patients. That can be either through higher concentration toothpaste, or fluoride mouth rinses. There are also lots of dry mouth products on the market. Most are mints, gums, pastes, or rinses that the manufacturers claim help to increase salivary flow, or coat the tissues so that it is not as noticeable. The two brands that I have found most effective in limiting the effect of the dry mouth are Biotene and Colgate Dry Mouth. Both have a line of products, and most recently I have had more people tell me they prefer the Colgate. Many people also find that gum with Xylitol in it is an effective way to increase saliva output, and the Xylitol actually helps to fight the decay. Sometimes though, there is just no supplement for lots of water.
If have dry mouth, or have questions about any of this, please let us know. It is important to do all we can to help manage this annoying and possibly detrimental problem.