Xerostomia occurs when there is a decrease of saliva in the mouth,also known as dry mouth. This can happen for a number of reasons, and sometimes you may not even notice. There is a range of dry mouth from slight to severe. Even if you are unaware you have dry mouth, your dentist or hygienist might have already seen signs. Some causes of dry mouth are:
- Side effect of medications
- Head & neck radiation
- result of disease ( i.e., Sjogren’s Syndrome, Hypertension, Diabetes, HIV/AIDS,
Hepatitis C and/or Lymphoma)
- Mouth breathing
Saliva plays an important role in the oral cavity. Keeping tissues moist and lubricated helps prevent disease. Saliva helps prevent decay by reducing the acidity in our mouths. It also helps us chew, talk and swallow. When saliva is decreased, we are at a much higher risk of developing tooth decay.
By identifying the cause of xerostomia we can better treat it. If it’s due to a medication side effect, your dentist and/or hygienist can work with your physician to find a good alternative. Dry mouth as a result of smoking would obviously be helped by quitting smoking. For those who breathe through their mouth, possible referral to an ENT may be helpful. If there isn’t much to be done to “cure” the dry mouth, there are steps that need to be taken to decrease the occurrence of decay at a high rate. These include but are not limited to:
- Practicing good oral hygiene
- Managing diet to decrease sugar intake.
- Increasing fluoride via toothpaste, rinse and/or take home trays.
- Maintaining periodic hygiene visits
- Using a source of xylitol
- Increasing water consumption
Without addressing dry mouth, decay is much harder to control. In a short period of a few months an individual can go from no cavities to several if left untreated. If you suspect you have dry mouth whether or not you know the cause, bring it up at your next dental visit. The sooner it is addressed the better we are able to preserve your teeth!
American Academy of Oral Medicine