Dry  One of the main causes of tooth decay is dry mouth (also known as xerostomia) caused by low saliva flow.  The saliva in your mouth is your main natural defense against cavities and tooth decay.

What causes dry mouth?  There can be many causes but usually it's a combination of these:

  • medications
    • more than 400 medications have dry mouth as a side effect and the number keeps growing
    • blood pressure medications and antidepressant medications are known for their dry mouth side effects
  • disease
    •  Diabetes, HIV/AIDS and Sjogren's syndrome are known to reduce salivary flow significantly
  • cancer treatment
    • radiation therapy of the head and neck can damage the salivary glands reducing salivary flow to almost nothing 
    • chemotherapy drugs can cause saliva to become much thicker causing the mouth to feel uncomfortably dry
  • nerve damage
    • injury to the nerves of the head and neck can limit the signals going to the salivary glands which tell them to produce saliva 
  • diet
    • foods containing caffeine can reduce salivary flow
    • salty foods can make the mouth feel particularly dry 
  • tobacco use
    • the smoke from cigarettes has a drying effect in the mouth
    • the nicotine from tobacco reduces salivary flow 

What can you do about dry mouth?  Treatments are tailored to the cause of xerostomia when it can be diagnosed.  

  • xerostomia that's caused by a medication can sometimes be helped by changing the medication or changing the dosage.  This would need to be done by the prescribing physician.
  • for salivary glands that are damaged or not functioning completely there are some medications that can help stimulate salivary flow.
  • there are some salivary substitutes that can be helpful.
  • sleep with a humidifier
  • chew sugarless gum or mints (preferably sweetened with xylitol) to help stimulate salivary flow
  • sip on water throughout the day and particularly at meals
  • brush and floss regularly
  • don't smoke or chew tobacco (one more excellent reason not to!)

Dry mouth is very common.  Make sure to let your doctor and dentist know that you're experiencing it because there are things that can be done!  If you have dry mouth and are looking for some help feel free to drop me an email at alan@meadfamilydental.com or call the office at (989) 799-9133.  We'd be happy to help!