According to the Oral Health Foundation, around 1 in 4 adults suffers from dry mouth – and the number rises to 40% in people over the age of 55. This places dry mouth among the most common oral health problems.
Have you ever had that feeling of “sticky mouth,” or has your tongue become stuck to the roof of your mouth? If so, you’ve had dry mouth. Being thirsty is one thing, but when these symptoms persist even after you have had plenty of water, you may be experiencing a chronic form of this condition. Not only is this issue embarrassing, since it also can be the source of bad breath, but it can even change the taste of your food.
Dry mouth isn’t life-threatening, but there’s no reason why you should have to live with it.
Alison Llewelyn, D.M.D., with Meadow Creek Family Dentistry in Spartanburg, reported that many of her patients who suffer with dry mouth also deal with tooth decay. Why? Saliva helps neutralize the pH levels in the mouth, limiting bacterial growth and washing away food particles.
“Without saliva, the pH levels in the mouth become very acidic, which creates a great environment for bacterial and fungal growth. This can cause increased plaque, tooth decay and gum disease, as well as yeast infections. (Also known as oral thrush.) In addition, chronic mouth sores, cracked lips and inflammation in the corners of your mouth (also known as angular cheilitis), along with poor nutrition from difficulty chewing and swallowing your food. Believe it or not, dry mouth can impact your overall health,” she explained.
Dr. Llewelyn noted that to treat dry mouth, it is important to get to the root of the problem.
“Dry mouth is a symptom or side effect of a condition, not a condition itself. To treat it, we must get to the root cause,” she advised.
Dry mouth is common, especially among senior citizens. It’s a side effect of some medications, and it also can result from radiation therapy – especially for head or neck cancer – CPAP machine therapy, tobacco use or vaping. People who breathe through their mouth at night and those with conditions such as diabetes and Sjögren’s syndrome might also suffer from dry mouth.
“Your dentist or primary care physician will review your medical history with all the medications that you’re taking and examine your mouth. If medications are the root cause, a change in prescription or dosage could help the severity of dry mouth,” she said.
Dr. Llewelyn mentioned that prescribed medications and over-the-counter products can be taken to stimulate the increase in saliva production.
“If an underlying infection or other health conditions are suspected, you may need blood tests, a biopsy, imaging scans of your salivary glands or other tests to identify the cause of your dry mouth,” she said.
To relieve symptoms of dry mouth, Dr. Llewelyn suggested sipping water or sucking on ice cubes frequently; chewing sugar-free gum; using over-the-counter products designed for dry mouth, like mouth rinses or lozenges with xylitol; adding a room humidifier; trying to breathe through your nose; keeping lips moisturized; and avoiding tobacco products, alcohol and caffeine.
To prevent the inevitable tooth decay that is associated with dry mouth, Dr. Llewelyn stressed seeing a dentist at least twice a year and brushing with a fluoride-based toothpaste.
“Your dentist can prescribe a toothpaste if dry mouth is severe enough. Don’t forget to floss, too!” she concluded.
For more information on Meadow Creek Family Dentistry, visit www.meadowcreekfamilydentistry.com.
By Theresa Stratford