Saliva is an important factor in protecting our teeth and dental tissues.
It may be easy to take saliva or spit, for granted. When there are changes in the amount of a person's saliva, it's impact on oral health can range from minor discomfort to causing serious dental problems. A healthy adult produces almost three pints of saliva per day. When a person experiences changes in their saliva production, they may fully realize its importance.
Why is Saliva So Important?
Saliva acts as your mouth's natural defense system. One of the most important functions is to lubricate your mouth with a continuous protective coating that helps neutralize the acid caused by plaque that leads to tooth decay. Saliva also washes away food from the teeth and gums, enhances your ability to taste and makes it easier to chew and swallow.
It can also help repair the initial damage of tooth decay when fluoride and other minerals present in saliva work to strengthen the outside surface of your teeth.
What is Dry Mouth?
Dry mouth, also called xerostomia, refers to the condition that results from the inability of the salivary glands to make enough saliva to keep your mouth wet. It can be a symptom of a medical condition or caused by some medications. It can also occur as a result of radiation treatment for cancer. While forty percent of elderly people experience dry mouth, the problem can occur at any age.
What Causes Dry Mouth?
The most common reason people have dry mouth is taking prescribed and over-the-counter medications including antihistamines, decongestants, painkillers, diuretics, high blood pressure drugs and antidepressants. Some diseases affect saliva production, such as diabetes, HIV/AIDS, and Parkinson's disease. Radiation, chemotherapy, and hormonal changes due to pregnancy and menopause are also associated with causing dry mouth.
What are Some Issues with Dry Mouth:
- Sore throat, dry feeling in the throat or hoarseness.
- A burning, sticky or dry feeling in the mouth.
- Difficulty swallowing or eating dry foods.
- Trouble speaking
- Mouth sores or other infections in the mouth.
- Cracked lips or dry nasal passages.
- Food tastes different.
- Contributes to bad breath.
- Discomfort when wearing full dentures.
- Interferes with digestion.
What Can I Do?
- Take frequent sips of water or sugar free drinks.
- Avoid caffeinated and carbonated beverages.
- Chew sugar-free gum or suck on sugar-free hard candy to help stimulate saliva flow.
- Avoid tobacco and alcohol.
- Limit spicy or salty foods may cause pain in a dry mouth.
- Talk with your doctor about potential changes in your medications.
When Should I Seek Help?
If you feel your mouth is constantly dry, visit your doctor or dentist to determine the cause. They will review your medical history and medications and examine your mouth. Medical tests are sometimes necessary. They may also recommend prescription or over-the-counter products to keep your mouth moist.
For some, it may be a simple matter of changing medications or drinking more fluids. If your salivary glands can still produce some saliva, your doctor or dentist may also prescribe a medicine to stimulate saliva production.
If you have dry mouth, taking extra care of your teeth and gums is important. Brush your teeth at least twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste and floss daily. Avoid sugary, sticky foods and other foods that irritate your mouth. Visit your dentist for regular check-ups and cleanings.
Note:The information in this document is not meant to replace the advice of your dentist or another licensed healthcare professional. Talk to your dentist for any specific dental advice.