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Xerostomia (Dry Mouth) and Dental Health

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Xerostomia, also known as “dry mouth”, or “dry mouth syndrome”, is a major factor in dental health. Dry mouth has numerous detrimental effects that need to be managed to maintain good dental health.

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Causes of Xerostomia

Dry mouth is a frequent side effect of some medications, it is more common in older persons, and it accompanies several diseases such as Sjögren’s syndrome and Sicca syndrome. Other causes include dehydration, mouthbreathing, radiation therapy involving the salivary glands, and the physical consequences of emotional or mental stress.

Xerostomia can also be a subjective feeling of dryness in the mouth, but for the purposes of discussing xerostomia and dentistry, the issue relates primarily to actually dry mouths caused by hypofunction of the salivary glands.

Characteristics of Xerostomia

Xerostomia appears as a change in composition of saliva, or reduced production of saliva, and is experienced as thirst, difficulty chewing certain foods, and general oral discomfort.

Dental Effects

Xerostomia has numerous effects on dental health, none of them good.

Increased incidence of dental caries

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The shortage of saliva leads to more aggressive cavity formation than would otherwise be the case, as saliva’s ability to inhibit cavities is lost. Cavities can form on parts of the teeth that normally would be cavity-free: the root surfaces and crevices.

Acid erosion

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Because saliva can offset acidification, xerostomia can lead to an overly acidic mouth, which in turn can lead to increased demineralization of the teeth, making them vulnerable to fractures and caries.

Increased rates of oral infection

Saliva has antimicrobial action that when lost with xerostomia increases the opportunity for various oral infections, most notably Candida (a variety of yeast infection).

Halitosis

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Lack of saliva can also lead to bad breath (halitosis). Apart from being unappealing in its own right, halitosis can indicate excessive bacterial action in the mouth. These bacteria will produce acids as they digest sugars, and that acid can lead to increased cavity formation.

Difficulty wearing dentures

Toothache

Because dentures (when not anchored on dental implants) are held in place by a degree of suction between the denture and the gum, moisture in the mouth is important to good denture adhesion. Some dental adhesives, especially powders, rely on moisture to be fully effective.

Other negative consequences of dry mouth include altered ability to taste foods, tingling or other discomfort in the mouth, difficulty swallowing and chewing (especially dry foods), food or lipstick sticking to the teeth, sore and cracked lips and corners of the mouth, and continuous thirst.

Treatments

Treating dry mouth involves finding a cause that can be corrected, which in some cases can be difficult as many of the causes are not correctable. It’s not usually possible to eliminate a medication simply to reduce xerostomia, or to eliminate the effects of a chronic disease that is causing dryness, for example.

On the other hand, saliva substitutes and stimulants are available and can afford some relief.

Should you be experiencing dry mouth, it is a good idea to speak to the experts at Sherway Gardens Dental Centre about ways to reduce dryness (such as by chewing sugar-free gum) and to mitigate the detrimental effects on oral health.

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