Xerostomia, or dry mouth, is a condition affecting millions of Americans. For some patients it is only a minor annoyance, and for others it can be downright debilitating. Three common reasons patients develop dry mouth are:
1. Taking a medication or having a medical procedure done that causes it as a side effect.
2. A health condition/syndrome that causes dry mouth.
3. It’s part of the natural aging process.
Perhaps it goes without saying, but a dry mouth is a mouth that’s just not producing enough saliva. If you don’t have enough saliva in your mouth, the flood gates open for some potential negative side effects on your dental health. Saliva protects your teeth. Saliva acts as a buffer to changes in pH when we eat and drink things that are very acidic. Saliva also helps to flush away food particles and potentially harmful bacteria. In addition, there are factors in saliva that also help teeth to remineralize. As you can imagine, if saliva production is reduced, the chances for dental problems increase.
Here’s a story that’s not uncommon. A patient in their 50s comes to the office that hasn’t had a checkup in a few years. They state that they haven’t had a cavity since they were a small child. About a year ago, they started taking some medication as recommended by their physician, and ever since then they’ve noticed their mouth is a little dry. Radiographs are taken and an oral examination is performed, and it is discovered that the patient has several new cavities. For a patient that hasn’t had any kind of dental work performed since they were a teen, this can be quite a shock!
Three Take Home Messages if you have Dry Mouth:
1. If you’re taking medication and you experience dry mouth as a side effect, talk to your physician to see if there are any alternatives. Sometimes a change in medication under the proper guidance and care of a physician can alleviate the symptoms. For patients that aren’t taking medication and experiencing dry mouth, talk to your physician about your options for starting a medication.
2. If a change in medication is not possible or if you are the type that refuses to take medication, consider some of the over the counter solutions for dry mouth. There are many patients that find significant improvement in their quality of life with just a simple mouth rinse or spray.
3. See your dentist regularly and have x-rays taken twice a year (whether insurance covers it or not, do it for your health). Understand that your risk for dental problems is much higher when dry mouth is a factor.