Dry Mouth and its Effects on the Oral Environment

Dry Mouth and its Effects on the Oral Environment

Matthew Norman, DDS and Michelle Phillips, RDH

Xerostomia is the dental term for dry mouth.  One out of every four adults suffers from some form of dry mouth.  Several factors can contribute to the presence of dry mouth such as: diabetes, anxiety, alcohol consumption, trauma to a salivary gland/duct, radiation/chemotherapy treatment for cancer, and medications.  Medications are the most common cause of dry mouth—both prescription and over-the-counter.  The more medications that a person is taking, the higher the risk that individual is to have diminished salivary flow and a dry mouth.

Saliva performs many functions.  Not only does saliva help to moisten the tissues in your mouth, but it also helps keep your mouth and teeth healthy and clean.  There are certain enzymes present in your saliva that help to digest food and plaque that adhere to your teeth after eating. If the salivary flow in your mouth is diminished, plaque and food sticks to your teeth more resiliently which increases the chance of having tooth decay or cavities.  Dry mouth can also lead to mouth infections, bad breath and periodontal (gum) disease.  Someone suffering from dry mouth may have gum tissue that appears red, a “cracked-looking” or red tongue.  The tongue can even appear shiny from the dryness.  Dry mouth has also been linked to an overall burning sensation in a person’s mouth.

Currently, there is no treatment available to directly increase someone’s salivary flow or the amount of saliva one produces, but salivary substitutes do exist.  One “over-the-counter” option available is a salivary substitute called Biotene.  Biotene comes in several forms—a mouthwash, toothpaste, moisturizing gels and even a chewing gum.  The Biotene products help to lubricate and protect your mouth just as your own saliva would.  Incorporating these salivary substitutes into your daily oral hygiene regime can improve your oral health and comfort while decreasing the risk of tooth decay caused by diminished salivary flow.

Another option for defense from the effects of xerostomia is fluoride.  Fluoride helps strengthen the outer layer of the tooth to prevent tooth decay.  As mentioned earlier, plaque and food can more easily stick to teeth in a dry mouth, attacking the minerals in the enamel to cause cavities.  Fluoride mouthrinses, such as ACT, helps to counteract this process and strengthen the teeth.

Whether you have a dry mouth or not, brushing twice a day with a fluoridated toothpaste, flossing once a day and visiting your Dentist on a regular basis (at least twice a year), is your best defense against tooth decay and gum disease!