How Dry Mouth Will Harm Your Teeth
As your local Meridian dentist, I love educating my patients about different types of oral issues that can get in the way of excellent dental health. Let’s discuss dry mouth and the detrimental effects it can have on your teeth.
Xerostomia is the medical term for a dry mouth. I am going to talk about three things: what causes dry mouth; the detrimental effects of dry mouth on your teeth; and what we can do to minimize those effects so you can obtain optimal dental health.
I have personally seen the effects of dry mouth on many of my patients and the devastating destruction on their teeth that dry mouth can cause. Some of my patients have undergone chemotherapy and radiation treatments to their head and neck regions which has caused dry mouth. The great news is, they beat cancer! The not-so-great news is that their teeth suffered thousands of dollars worth of dental damage that could have been avoided with proper care.
WHY SALIVA, OR SPIT IS IMPORTANT
Saliva helps to keep your mouth moist and digest your food. It helps to defend your mouth against bacterial infection. It even helps you talk.
Your saliva helps you chew food and break it down for digestion. As you chew, it helps to wash away food from your teeth and gums.
When your gums are dry, they become red and irritated and are much more prone to gum disease. Dry mouth can lead to a burning feeling in your mouth and throat. Having a tongue that is dry can make it rough and uncomfortable. Having a dry mouth can contribute to bad breath, tooth decay, gum disease, and increased mouth infections.
WHAT CAUSES DRY MOUTH
Dry mouth is caused by many things, including prescription medications. People with Sjogren syndrome suffer from dry mouth, as do many of those with diabetes. Mouth breathing, using tobacco products, and drinking alcohol are all contributors to dry mouth.
People receiving head and neck radiation can permanently lose salivary flow, and people undergoing chemotherapy can also experience dry mouth during and after treatment.
WHY DRY MOUTH CAUSES TOOTH DECAY
Saliva helps to protect your teeth from decay. Saliva helps to keep the surfaces of your teeth healthy because it contains calcium, fluoride, and phosphate ions that help to protect your teeth by remineralizing them after bacterial acid attacks.
Saliva has antibodies in it, which are part of the body’s defense system against bacteria. Tooth decay is caused when bacteria build up on your teeth. When you eat food, the bacteria on your teeth eat food. The bacteria produce acid when they eat and this is why you get tooth decay. It is the acid from the bacteria that decays teeth. When there is not enough saliva, the body does not have a way to stop the bacteria in the mouth from destroying the teeth and the result is massive tooth decay.
THINGS YOU CAN DO TO RELIEVE DRY MOUTH
- Chew sugar-free gum that is sweetened with xylitol such as Epic Dental 100% xylitol sweetened gum. This helps to increase salivary flow.
- Suck on hard candy that is sweetened with xylitol. Epic dental has xylitol sweetened mints. Don’t suck on jolly ranchers or other hard candy with sugar in it because the sugar in those will contribute to increased decay.
- Suck on pellet ice and drink lots of water during the day. Do not chew on ice chips as this will break your teeth.
- Avoid drinking alcohol, smoking or chewing tobacco, or drinking carbonated drinks.
- Use a high fluoride containing mouthwash that does not contain alcohol.
- Brush your teeth with a prescription fluoride toothpaste morning and night using an electric toothbrush and floss twice a day.
- Some people find it beneficial to sleep with a humidifier.
WHAT WE DO IN OUR MERIDIAN DENTAL OFFICE FOR PEOPLE WITH DRY MOUTH
If you start a medication that leads to dry mouth, I recommend you start using a prescription-level fluoride toothpaste and mouthwash to prevent decay. I also recommend more frequent dental cleaning visits.
If you experience decay from dry mouth, I recommend fluoride trays – a soft plastic tray that fits on your teeth that you can put fluoride gel in to keep your teeth covered. This helps to decrease tooth decay and strengthen teeth.