That parched and irritated feeling in your mouth may mean that you just haven’t had enough water today. On the other hand, if this feeling never seems to go away, you may be suffering from dry mouth, which has a lot of serious dental implications.
What Is Dry Mouth?
If you’d like to get medical about it, this is officially called xerostomia. It is a condition that is caused by a significant decrease in the amount of saliva in your mouth, usually because the salivary glands are not working properly. You simply don’t have enough saliva to keep your mouth and tongue wet and moisturized.
Why Is Dry Mouth a Problem?
So, you’re feeling a little parched. Is it really that big of a deal?
In a word: yes.
There are a lot of potential problems that come from dry mouth. A few of the concerns include:
- It’s harder to taste, chew, swallow, and speak normally
- It increases the risk of tooth decay
- Saliva normally helps prevent infections by controlling the bacteria and fungi in the mouth
- Saliva also helps digest food
- It can make your tongue more sensitive, leading to something called burning mouth syndrome
- Dry mouth leads to bad breath
- Sores in the mouth become more prominent
- It can make it harder to wear dentures
What Causes Dry Mouth?
While you could say that nerves or stress can cause a certain kind of dry mouth, that’s not what we’re talking about here. Problematic dry mouth is usually caused by:
- Diseases – Some diseases can affect the salivary glands. Everything from Parkinson’s and diabetes to HIV/AIDS and Sjögren’s Syndrome could cause problems.
- Radiation or chemo therapy – Radiation during cancer treatment can damage the salivary glands.
- Various medications – Some medications, particularly those for high blood pressure and depression, have side effects that impact salivary glands.
- Nerve damage – Injuries to the head or neck that damage the nerves there can make it harder for the glands to function correctly.
What Are the Symptoms?
How can you tell the difference between a mouth that’s gone dry because of the air, the stress, or nervous tension and a mouth that’s dry because of a serious condition? Well, the most obvious answer is that one doesn’t go away after you have a glass of water. But there are some other symptoms to watch out for, too.
- A constant dry feeling in the throat
- A dry, rough/tough tongue
- Trouble chewing, swallowing, and talking
- A sticky, dry feeling in the mouth
- Mouth sores
How Does It Affect Your Health?
Dry mouth can be a sign of certain diseases and conditions that we need to look at immediately. It is not a part of normal aging, so if you are detecting some of those symptoms, be sure to talk to us about it.
How does it affect your overall dental health? The same way other dental problems do.
Your mouth and your overall health have a very close connection, and when bacteria builds up on your teeth and makes you prone to infection, there are many problems that can result. In fact, your oral health has been repeatedly linked to diabetes, heart disease and other serious conditions.
What Can You Do About It?
If you are suffering from dry mouth, there are several things we can do about it. We may recommend some saliva substitutes and work with you to determine which medications might be causing problems. However, there are some things you can do on your own to minimize dry mouth:
- Keep up your best oral hygiene routines
- Avoid alcohol, caffeine, and smoking
- Limit acidic juices
- Avoid dry foods and overly salty foods
- Use a humidifier at night
- Sip water or sugarless drinks often, especially during meals
- Chew sugarless gum to stimulate saliva flow
- If the source of your dry mouth is medication, you may talk to a physician about changing the medicine or dosage
Dry mouth is more than just a mild annoyance. If it isn’t already interfering with your ability to eat and speak, it can still cause some serious problems down the road. Speak with us as soon as possible if you notice some of the above symptoms and we’ll work with you to create the best solution.