Dry Mouth: A Serious Concern for Dental Health

By Dr. Joe D’Angelo

All mouths naturally contain saliva, right? Well, actually not always. The truth is, despite what nature intended, dry mouth is fairly common. Although the discomfort of dry mouth is easily remedied, the effects of dry mouth on the teeth and gums are not! Dry mouth is more than just a nuisance, it is a serious concern and management of this unfortunate condition is imperative. Saliva has several important roles in the mouth. Besides providing a comfortable oral environment, saliva also aids in taste, swallowing food, speech, management of acidity in the oral cavity, management of bacteria and plaque accumulation, and initiation of digestion.

How is dry mouth caused?

Dry mouth occurs when salivary glands are unable to produce enough saliva. Dry mouth, or xerostomia, can be caused by medical conditions, genetics, or even stress. However, the most common cause or dry mouth is prescription medications. Most medications can play some role in the alteration of salivary flow. The most offensive are the very commonly prescribed high blood pressure medications and anti-depressants.

There are over 1,400 medications that can cause dry mouth. An individual can have xerostomia while taking a particular medication, while a similar drug may have no effect on oral dryness at all. In some cases, your doctor may change your prescription to an alternative medicine. Your prescribing doctor should be made aware of the condition so that options can be considered.

AIDS, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease and cancerous tumors can all lead to dry mouth. Radiation therapy and chemotherapy can also cause dry mouth due to the physical thickening of saliva.

Some causes of dry mouth can be attributed to genetics. Sjogren’s Syndrome is an autoimmune medical condition that causes dry mouth. Usually spurred on by genetics or a viral infection, Sjogren’s Syndrome directly affects the salivary glands and stunts the mouth’s natural ability to produce saliva. Unfortunately, it is not curable, but can be managed.

Stress is another common cause of dry mouth, but it is usually temporary and can be treated.

Symptoms: How do I know if I have dry mouth?

People describe a dry mouth as sticky, hot, or as if saliva has turned gluey. You may also find that speaking, chewing or swallowing is difficult in the presence of a dry mouth. Dry tongue or dry, cracked lips are also common symptoms of oral dryness. You may also find that oral lesions become more apparent since a lack of saliva increases friction in the mouth. Affected individuals also find that bad breath or even oral infections are more frequent. Tooth decay is common in the presence of dry mouth. When decay begins in a patient with dry mouth, it can spread very rapidly and result in extensive restorative needs, or loss of the affected teeth.

Treating Dry Mouth

To ensure the proper care of your oral health when it comes to dry mouth, always be sure to:

Brush teeth twice a day.

It may also be prudent to use toothpaste with high fluoride content. While some brands can actually irritate salivary glands, others are designed to stimulate salivary flow.

Floss regularly.

Remove plaque, bacteria and debris daily with flossing.

Drink water frequently.

It is a good idea to keep water on your desk or bedside to encourage more water consumption. Also, think about increasing your water intake with every meal. Avoid sugary drinks or carbonated drinks which tend to be very acidic.

Sugarless candies.

Some people are drawn to suck on candies or chew gum to stimulate salivary flow. Make sure to use a sugarless variety since decay is a major problem for dry mouth sufferers. Biotene makes an excellent gum that helps stimulate salivary flow.

Use a fluoride rinse regularly

. A prescription strength fluoride rinse such as those available at most dental offices are a very important part of managing the problem of tooth decay. There are rinses available over-the-counter which are fine for daily use and may help stimulate salivary production.

Keep your dental preventive re-care current.

Regular visits with the dental hygienist and examination by a dentist is very important for management of plaque accumulation and early identification of decay or other infections. Early detection and treatment of decay is imperative.

Dental Implants

For those people who wear dentures, a big problem with dry mouth is retention of their appliances. A temporary help can be the use of adhesives. However, the proper long-term solution is the use of strategically placed implants to help retain the dentures. An additional benefit of implants in this role is the reduction and prevention of bone loss that is inevitable when dentures move even slightly. An option for those who can afford a more comprehensive approach is to replace the dentures with a fixed implant-supported bridge.

When a patient experiences tooth loss, due to decay or infection, dental implants can be used to replace individual teeth or a bridge. Dental Implants do not decay and are very reliable. Maintenance is still important, especially if dry mouth is a problem.

If you suspect you have dry mouth, come see us for a diagnosis and to rule out any other health conditions that may be a cause of your oral dryness.

Call us at 858 459-6224 or visit us online at