Saliva is an essential body fluid that provides protection and preservation of the oral cavity. Saliva is made of mostly water and many other substances which have lubricative, cleansing, anti-microbial, excretory, and digestive functions. It also aids in our speech, and facilitates our sense of taste. Dry mouth is called ‘xerostomia’ (zeer-oh-stomia) which is a common condition most often caused by a decrease in saliva. Xerostomia can cause difficulty in speech, taste, and fighting cavities. It can also lead to halitosis (bad breath).
Diagnosing xerostomia usually requires an updated medical history along with a list of any medications (prescription/non-prescription) that the patient may be taking. An extra-oral and intra-oral examination along with palpation of the salivary glands is also done to rule out tenderness, firmness, or enlargement of the salivary glands and ducts. There are some medications that can commonly cause dry mouth, including, but not limited to, anti-hypertensive, anti-depressants, anti-histamines, anti-emetics, anti-psychotics, decongestants, diuretics, and some pain medications. In a general sense, if you are taking multiple drugs, there is an increased risk of suffering from xerostomia as a side effect.
Treating dry mouth is usually done with over-the-counter synthetic saliva substitutes, and sometimes in more severe cases with prescription medications. Due to the side effects of the drugs, they are not usually the first option for treatment. They also do not help in preventing dental caries (cavities). The most common area where caries are present, due to dry mouth, is at the circumference of the tooth along the gum line.
In order to prevent dental caries, brush after every meal and floss your teeth daily. When brushing is not an option, try chewing sugar-free gum to help remove food debris and to stimulate salivary flow. At minimum, rinse with water immediately after every meal. Decrease the amount of fermentable carbohydrate intake, especially sticky foods such as cookies, bread, potato chips, and candy. Avoid frequent intake of acidic beverages (such as carbonated soft drinks and sport drinks). Caffeine can increase the sensation of dry mouth (be aware that most soft drinks contain caffeine). Carry water with you all the time to keep your mouth moist.
Salivary secretion can be induced and increased by chewing gum containing xylitol. Pure xylitol is a white crystalline substance that looks and tastes like sugar. Xylitol is not synthetic – it’s a natural part of regular metabolism. Our body produces 15 grams of it using other food sources. Years of research has shown that xylitol is the best sweetener for your teeth. Xylitol does not get metabolized the same way as carbohydrates do. Daily carbohydrates get metabolized by bacteria present in the oral cavity and produce an acidic byproduct that is usually responsible for causing cavities.
So a healthy output of saliva is good for your teeth, while “dry mouth,” or xerostomia, can lead to increased tooth decay. Fight that decay by making appointments to see your dentist regularly and determine how often you need to have a professional cleaning. Ask for specific instructions regarding oral home care for your specific situation. Use fluoridated toothpaste daily to help reduce cavities. The Sacramento Dentistry Group may even recommend fluoride gel dispensed in a customized tray. Preventative dentistry means we make sure it doesn’t get broken!