Xerostomia (Dry Mouth Syndrome) relates to the absence or reduction of saliva or moisture in the mouth. Rapid tooth deterioration can occur when saliva is diminished or completely absent. Bad breath, recurrent mouth ulcers, fragile teeth, higher decay rate, increased gum infections and tooth loss are the result of untreated xerostomia. Where dentists once relied on the patient’s expression of mouth dryness to initiate treatment, there is more attention focused now on identifying early signs and prevention.
The occurrence of xerostomia relates to our physical and mental health, our body features, our occupations and our lifestyle choices. Aging used to be considered a cause of xerostomia. This is not true today. Xerostomia has become more common in the aged population mainly due to changes in physical and mental health along with polypharmacy - the intake of multiple daily medications.
Side effects of prescription and non-prescription medications are a significant contributing factor in the increased incidence of xerostomia. Leading the way are the Anti-hypertensives (blood pressure), Anti-depressants, Anti-histamines, Decongestants, Diuretics, Diet Pills, Smoking Cessation and Recreational Drugs (heroin, cannabis and amphetamines). Keep your dentist current on all medications you are taking.
How we breathe also has some influence on our saliva. A normal breathing pattern generally occurs through our nostrils. Mouthbreathing is a condition where breathing is deferred to the mouth, mainly from deviations in the structure of the nose. Correcting this problem at an early age is more beneficial to your overall dental health, and can be coordinated with the individual’s growth process.
Bouts of Colds or Flu involving diarrhoea, vomiting and sweating are conditions that alter body fluid levels and therefore saliva. These symptoms tend to be temporary, but they also lead to chronic conditions with the aged as well as people with the eating disorders Anorexia and Bulimia. The athlete involved in repetitive strenuous physical activity will also experience depleted saliva production. Saliva production lessens to a ìnon-essentialî function as their performance requires peak muscle function.
Severe burns and excessive bleeding also alter the saliva resulting from an imbalance in our body fluid as part of the inflammatory response. Health conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, scleroderma, Sjogren's syndrome, lupus and diabetes can involve progressive saliva changes that result in the classic ìdesertî dry mouth. The use of a mouth moisturiser is a beneficial aid in maintaining a healthy mouth.
Smoking, alcohol and caffeine make up the ëdental health trilogy’ and have a significant impact on the depletion of body fluid, especially our saliva. Smoking limits blood flow by narrowing our blood vessels. Our gum tissue and bone support deteriorates from the loss of nutrients carried in our blood, and destructive plaque bacteria activity increases. Alcohol dries the mouth and promotes increased bleeding of our gum tissue. Caffeine, a diuretic, alters saliva production through the action of increased sodium and water loss throughout the body.
We face more challenges today, in modern society, in the pursuit of optimum dental health. Filtered water is by far the best source for replenishing our body fluid. Water is not acidic, it has no sugar content and represents 70% of our body weight. Choosing drinks such as fruit juices, soft drinks, coffee, tea and sports drinks as replenishing fluids is likely to lead to poor dental health. These beverage choices, in xerostomia, can rapidly destroy tooth structure.
Sugarfree lollies and chewing gum can be a source of further tooth breakdown (see lollies and chewing gum on the previous page).
Consult with your dentist on any mouth dryness symptoms you are experiencing. Utilise your dental professionals to help find the right dental products for your individual needs. Early detection is essential for good dental health.
Dry mouth symptoms
You should have your teeth examined by your dentist if you are experiencing any of these common symptoms:
- The corners of your lips are dry and/or cracked;
- You have frothy (aerated) saliva - tiny bubbles of saliva become visible at the corners of your lips when talking;
- You have impaired speech because your tongue sticks to your palate (the roof of you mouth) when you speak, making a ìsmackingî sound;
- Fissures (deep crevices) can be seen on the inside surfaces of your cheeks and on your tongue;
- You have a burning or tingling sensation in your tongue;
- You have thick, ropey saliva (sticky glutinous strings);
- Food particles stick to the front surface of your teeth and on your gums below or above the teeth where the cheek tissue begins;
- You have recurrent mouth ulcers;
- Your gums become irritated and you have increased bleeding when you floss, brush and eat;
- There are white and/or red patches present on your tongue, gums and inside your cheeks;
- You have bad breath (Halitosis);
- Your sense of smell and/or taste diminishes;
- The fit and comfort level of your dentures change;
- You have difficulty in chewing food and swallowing;
- You have difficulty in swallowing pills or tablets;
- Your sleep is interrupted with the need to drink water during the night;
- You wake up with ìCotton mouthî in the morning and need fluid to relieve it;
- All of your teeth becoming generally darker - either yellow or grey;
- You experience an increased rate of dental decay.
- You have long-term nasal congestion/sinusitis.