Dry mouth (xerostomia) occurs when your normal saliva flow slows down or stops. It is not a disease, but a condition that can arise as a side effect of various other factors. If you’re experiencing this issue or think you may be at risk, here’s what you should know.
Why is saliva important?
Because of its chemical composition, saliva acts as an antimicrobial agent. It helps clean and lubricate your mouth, control acid levels, remineralize your teeth, and maintain your oral health. If you’re not producing enough saliva, these functions will suffer.
What causes dry mouth?
If your mouth is chronically dry, one or more of these factors may be the cause:
- Electronic cigarette use (vaping)
- Drinking alcohol
- Using alcohol-based mouthwash
- Certain medical conditions or illnesses
- Certain medications
- Radiation treatment
- Not drinking enough water
- Mouth breathing
Is my child at risk for dry mouth?
Children (as well as adults) who mouth breathe are at risk for dry mouth. The condition leads to a higher decay rate (more cavities), as well as red and swollen gums.
Can dry mouth cause other conditions?
Dry mouth contributes to a number of other conditions. These include:
- A burning sensation in the mouth
- A sore throat that won’t go away
- Bad breath
- Difficulty speaking (hoarseness)
- Difficulty swallowing
- Dry nasal passages
- Gum disease
- Imbalanced acid levels in the mouth
- Increased plaque and tooth decay
- Tooth loss in 30% of adult sufferers
How can I protect myself against dry mouth?
You can help protect yourself against dry mouth by taking these positive steps:
- Eating a healthy diet with a low sugar intake
- Quitting smoking and vaping
- Restricting your alcohol intake
- Using alcohol-free mouthwash
- Drinking plenty of water (aim for two liters each day)
If you take medication that causes or contributes to this condition, talk to your doctor about possible alternatives that would allow you to avoid this side effect.
Can my dentist treat my dry mouth?
It is a good idea get a dental evaluation if you’re experiencing any of the symptoms described. Especially if you think you might be mouth breathing (or know that you do), your dentist can provide valuable assessment, feedback, and solutions.
The Oral Cancer Foundation. https://oralcancerfoundation.org/complications/xerostomia/. Updated October 15, 2018. Accessed January 3, 2019.