What is dry mouth?
A silly question you might think, but dry mouth can often be more than just a dry or parched sensation in the mouth. It can be a symptom of a preexisting condition, or lead to various other forms of oral infection and disease.
Dryness of the mouth is a result of a decreased or inhibited flow of saliva. Though you may not realize it, saliva plays a prominent role in your oral and overall health. Harmful forms of bacteria in the mouth (called anaerobic, literally meaning “without air) thrive and multiply at a much higher rate in environments with less oxygen. Saliva, being highly concentrated in oxygen, generally helps to kill these bacteria and wash them away. Without this natural bacteria inhibitor present, bacteria can quickly grow out of control and wreak havoc on your oral health.
Having a dry mouth is just the beginning. When the mouth is persistently dry, it can lead to gum infections and more serious conditions like gingivitis and periodontal disease – which has now been linked to other health conditions such as heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.
Signs of dry mouth
It may seem like a no brainer, but there are more signs of dry mouth than what seems obvious. Some other things to look out for are:
- Saliva that seems thick or stringy
- Sores or split skin at the corners of the mouth
- Cracked lips
- Bad breath
- Difficulty speaking or swallowing
- Sore throat
- Altered sense of taste
- Fungal infection of the mouth
- Increased plaque, tooth decay, and gum disease
Progression of dry mouth
• Bad breath
|• Tongue/gum infection
|• Sores or split skin
• Cracked lips
Dangers of dry mouth
As previously mentioned, dryness of the mouth can lead to an overgrowth of bacteria. These bacteria can cause gum disease and periodontal disease if left unchecked. While serious enough on their own, these conditions have been linked to several other health conditions. The following are all conditions and diseases that can stem from bacteria, and the diseases caused by them:
- Bad breath
- Bleeding gums
- Canker sores
- Gum boils
- Gum disease
- Gum infection
- Loose teeth
- Mouth sores
- Periodontal disease
- Receding gums
- Red gums
- Sjogren’s Syndrome
- Swollen gums
- Tooth abscess
- Trench mouth
- Cardiovascular disease
- Preterm births
- Metabolic syndrome
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Erectile dysfunction
- Bacterial pneumonia
What causes dry mouth?
Dry mouth can have a number of causes, both internal and external. Here are a few examples:
- Sjogren’s Syndrome
- Side effects from medical treatments
- Damage to salivary glands
- Nerve damage
Certain prescription drugs list dry mouth as a side effect as well. Some of the types of drugs that can cause this are:
- Blood pressure drugs
- Muscle relaxants
- Urinary incontinence drugs
- Parkinson’s Disease drugs
- Diabetes medications
- Alzheimer’s Disease drugs
There are additional outside sources that can cause dry mouth that you probably don’t realize you may already have in your home. It’s something that you’ve likely been using for years, and wouldn’t ever consider that it could cause damage of this nature. Toothpaste and mouthwash both contain ingredients that can cause dry mouth.
Toothpaste contains a foaming agent called sodium lauryl sulfate, or SLS. SLS is a detergent added to toothpaste to give it the appearance that it is working by foaming up, but according to a 1983 report by the American College of Toxicity, it is “highly irritating, and dangerous”. The abbreviated symbol for SLS is used around the world as a clinical skin irritant as well. If that wasn’t bad enough Dr. Pal Barkvoll, an oral surgeon in Oslo, Norway concluded after doing a clinical study of toothpastes with and without sodium lauryl sulfate that SLS dries tissues in your mouth that protect against irritants such as acidic foods and drinks. He determined that SLS is a strong denaturing substance, which means it can cause disruption of cell activity, and possibly cell death. This study also showed that SLS can be a leading cause of canker sores and mouth ulcers.
Problems In My Own Medicine Cabinet?
Most major brands of mouthwash contain alcohol as a primary active ingredient. While it is effective at eliminating bacteria in the mouth, it’s the lasting effect of alcohol that earned it a spot on our list. Alcohol is a drying agent, and what that means in regard to damaging the mouth is that once it’s done its job and eliminated bacteria it dries the mouth. While on the surface this doesn’t sound like much, remember that the harmful types of bacteria that cause the majority of oral problems grow best in a dry environment. In short, alcohol kills bacteria, but provides the environment for it to grow back just as strong.
Also to be considered is the link between alcohols in mouthwash to oral cancer. A study from the Melbourne Dental School in Victoria Australia had this to say about their finding:
“…we believe that there is now sufficient evidence to accept the proposition that alcohol-containing mouthwashes contribute to the increased risk of development of oral cancer and further feel that it is inadvisable for oral healthcare professionals to recommend the long-term use of alcohol-containing mouthwashes.”
How to prevent dry mouth
- Use an antibacterial oral rinse to restore mouth moisture and kill bacteria
- Drink plenty of water
- Establish good oral hygiene habits
- Avoid commercial mouth rinses or mouthwashes that contain alcohol or peroxide. These ingredients will further dry out the mouth.
- Avoid salty foods
- Avoid drinks containing alcohol or caffeine
Treatment of dry mouth
Treatment for dry mouth depends on what is causing the problem. Generally, treatment of a dry mouth focuses on three areas:
- Managing underlying medical conditions causing the dry mouth
- Preventing tooth decay
- Increasing flow of saliva if possible
If a dry mouth is caused by a health related situation that can be changed, your dentist or doctor may consider making a change. For example, if your dry mouth is caused by a medication, your doctor may change the medication or adjust the dosage. However, if the underlying medical condition causing the dry mouth cannot be changed, treatment may focus on ways to increase saliva flow.
Not only does saliva help digest food and make it possible for you to chew and swallow, it is a natural mouth cleanser. Without saliva, tooth decay and gum disease are more likely to occur. If you have a dry mouth, to combat tooth decay and gum disease, you need to be extra careful about following good oral hygiene habits, which consist of:
- Brushing your teeth at least twice a day, but even more preferably, after every meal and before bedtime.
- Flossing your teeth every day
- Visiting your dentist for a checkup and cleaning at least twice a year.
If you have dry mouth, your dentist or doctor may recommend the use of artificial saliva products. The problem with this approach is that many of the over the counter products for this can contain a number of chemicals that can cause other side effects.
Cost of dry mouth
If your dry mouth is severe enough, there are a number of tests your doctor or dentist may recommend. Though they aren’t that painful for your mouth, they may cause some severe discomfort for your wallet.
Your doctor or dentist will first need to obtain specifics of the complaint of dry mouth in order to diagnose it. At this point they may physically examine the salivary glands by palpating them for the presence of tenderness, firmness, or enlargement. The first test in most cases it to measure the salivary flow rate, or the amount of saliva produced during a specific amount of time. The next option is called salivary gland scintigraphy. This is a test performed at a hospital which measures the rate at which an injected radioactive material is taken from the blood by the salivary glands and secreted in the mouth. Your doctor may also need to take a biopsy of the saliva glands for examination as well. After all this, the end result is often just prescription drugs that come with their own side effects, and do not help prevent tooth decay.
What to do about it
As we’ve discussed, the most important thing to do to correct dry mouth before it is too far gone is to implement a solid oral hygiene program. If you’re already doing that and still suffering, it may very well be due to the chemical laden products you’re using. Combining good oral hygiene with a natural product that will eliminate the bacteria which cause the problems may be the answer to a number of these problems.
Did it ever occur to you that the least expensive and painful option might be found in nature? Why not try a great product that provides natural relief?