Dry Mouth

Dry mouth, or xerostomia, is an oral imbalance where an inadequate amount of saliva may cause oral health problems.  Saliva helps preserve tooth structure by decreasing the risk of tooth decay and by protecting teeth wear and acid erosion.  It also hydrates oral tissues, protecting them from bacterial overgrowth.  Tooth decay, tooth wear, and unhealthy oral tissues may be symptoms of dry mouth.

What causes dry mouth?

Some people don’t produce enough saliva.  The following conditions could be the cause of dry mouth:

  • Age—salivary flow naturally decreases as you age.
  • Diet—Excessive caffeine or alcohol could inhibit salivary flow
  • Medications—Many prescription drugs have side effects that decrease salivary flow.
  • Radiation treatment—head and neck radiation treatment may decrease or eliminate salivary gland function.
  • Medical conditions—certain diseases as well as salivary gland tumors can decrease salivary flow

What can I do to reduce dry mouth?

Your dentist can customize a dry mouth management plan for you.  Here are some recommendations:

  • Apply special water-based lubricants to protect your teeth and tissues
  • Use sugar-free mints or chewing gum to stimulate salivary flow
  • Use a humidifier while sleeping to prevent your mouth from going too dry
  • Use oral medication to stimulate salivary flow
  • Learn more about the intake of caffeine and alcohol as well as the intake of water and other rehydrating fluids

What will happen if I ignore my dry mouth problem?

If your oral imbalance is left unaddressed, continuing dry mouth will put you at a much higher risk for many oral diseases, such as severe tooth decay.  And this often results in infection requiring root canal treatment or tooth extraction.  Even with adequate oral hygiene, patients with dry mouth may experience bad breath, or halitosis.  The risk of mouth sores and loss of tooth structure due to wear and acid erosion also increases.

This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.