How Dry Mouth Can Hurt Your Teeth
Dry mouth (or xerostomia) is not just an annoying symptom. It’s a condition that can lead to major health problems if left untreated, especially when it comes to your teeth.
Dry mouth happens to all of us at times, especially when we’re nervous, upset or stressed. But for some, it can be an ongoing problem when the salivary glands in the mouth are not working properly. This is often a result of taking medication (more than 400 have been known to cause it). It can also result from cancer treatments like radiation and chemotherapy, or certain diseases, such as Sjögren syndrome, HIV/AIDS and diabetes.
Many older people have dry mouth, but it is not a normal part of aging.
With dry mouth, you may have:
sticky, dry or burning feeling
dry, rough tongue
problems tasting, chewing, swallowing, even talking
Dry Mouth and Your Teeth
Saliva is a vital first step in the digestion of food. Saliva not only keeps your mouth wet, it also helps prevent tooth decay and control bacteria, viruses and fungi in the mouth. Without enough saliva, you may not only develop tooth decay (or cavities), you may also develop mouth sores or infections.
Even if you are taking measures to control your dry mouth (see below), it’s important to pay special attention to your teeth to prevent decay:
Brush teeth with a fluoride toothpaste and a toothbrush with soft bristles. If it hurts to brush, try soaking the bristles in warm water.
Floss your teeth gently every day. Avoid flossing around bleeding or sore gums, and see your dentist if you continue to have gum problems.
Use a fluoride mouthwash that doesn’t contain alcohol, which can dry out your mouth.
Avoid sticky, sugary foods and drinks as much as possible. Brush immediately after eating these.
Get a dental check-up and cleaning twice a year. Your dentist may prescribe a special fluoride toothpaste or suggest a fluoride treatment to protect your teeth.
Use dry-mouth products, available in sprays and lozenges over the counter.
Chew sugarless gum or suck on sugarless hard candy to increase the flow of saliva.
Drink plenty of water throughout the day.
Use a humidifier at night to breathe in moisture while you sleep.
Avoid drinks with caffeine, alcohol and tobacco, which tend to dry you out.
Tips to Help With Dry Mouth
Scientists at NIH’s National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR) are exploring the potential use of gene therapy for people with Sjögren syndrome and cancer patients whose salivary glands were damaged during radiation treatment. To follow any new studies on gene therapy and salivary gland function, visit ClinicalTrials.gov.