What is dry mouth and what can you do about it?

Sipping water can help alleviate a dry mouth.

A dry mouth isn't just uncomfortable, it can increase your risk of tooth decay. Dry mouth (also known as the scarier sounding xerostomia) is exactly what it sounds like – a dry feeling in the mouth and throat, along with cracked lips, frequent thirst and even trouble chewing and swallowing. Unfortunately, the causes of dry mouth and the effect it can have on your oral health isn't quite so straightforward. 

Causes of dry mouth 

If you suffer from a dry mouth, it could be due to one of the following factors:

  • Dehydration. Simply not drinking enough water (or drinking too much alcohol), fever, diarrhoea and vomiting can all lead to dehydration and a subsequent dry mouth.
  • Many common medications such as antihistamines, decongestants and sedatives.
  • Certain medical conditions and illnesses, including diabetes, anaemia, and Alzheimer's disease.
  • Smoking cigarettes.

Saliva is crucial in protecting your teeth from decay and preventing bacterial and fungal infections.

Effects of a dry mouth

Having a dry mouth is a problem, because it means you don't have enough saliva in your mouth. Saliva is crucial in protecting your teeth from decay and preventing bacterial and fungal infections, explains the New Zealand Dental Association.

This is because saliva works to wash food particles and bacteria away from your teeth, and contains key proteins and minerals that strengthen tooth enamel. It also helps regulate the acidity of your mouth, acting as a buffer against acid and stopping the pH levels in your mouth from getting too low. This makes saliva an important defence against cavities and gum disease. 

A lack of saliva can lead to problems with your teeth and gums, so having a dry mouth shouldn't be ignored.

Smoking could be behind the dry mouth you are experiencing. Smoking could be behind the dry mouth you are experiencing.

How to treat dry mouth

To boost saliva flow and alleviate dry mouth, drink plenty of water throughout the day. You can also try chewing on sugar-free gum. or sucking on sugar-free lollies. Avoiding foods that are coarse and dry (like toast, cereals, and crackers) or highly acidic (such as kiwifruit and oranges) is helpful. Steering clear of alcohol and cigarettes is a good idea, too. If you suspect medication is the cause behind your salivary hypo-function, check with your doctor to see if there is an alternative treatment that doesn't have this side effect.

Gum disease and cavities pose more of a problem for people with a dry mouth, so it is important to take care to brush and floss correctly, and have regular dental check-ups. 

If symptoms persist, or you are concerned about the effects a dry mouth could be having on your teeth, book an appointment and come in to see us.