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Dental Health and Dry Mouth

We all need saliva to moisten and cleanse our mouths and digest food. Saliva also prevents infection by controlling bacteria and fungi in the mouth. 

When you don't make enough saliva, your mouth gets dry and uncomfortable. Fortunately, many treatments can help against dry mouth, also called xerostomia.

What Causes Dry Mouth?

Causes of dry mouth include:

  • Side effect of certain medical treatments. Damage to the salivary glands, the glands that make saliva, can reduce the amount of saliva produced. For example, the damage could stem from radiation to the head and neck, and chemotherapy treatments, for cancer.
  • Nerve damage. Dry mouth can be a result of nerve damage to the head and neck area from an injury or surgery.
  • Dehydration. Conditions that lead to dehydration, such as fever, excessive sweating, vomiting, diarrhea, blood loss, and burns can cause dry mouth.
  • Surgical removal of the salivary glands.
  • Lifestyle. Smoking or chewing tobacco can affect how much saliva you make and aggravate dry mouth. Breathing with your mouth open a lot can also contribute to the problem.

What Are the Symptoms of Dry Mouth?

Common symptoms include:

  • A sticky, dry feeling in the mouth
  • Frequent thirst
  • Sores in the mouth; sores or split skin at the corners of the mouth; cracked lips
  • A dry feeling in the throat
  • A burning or tingling sensation in the mouth and especially on the tongue
  • A dry, red, raw tongue
  • Problems speaking or trouble tasting, chewing, and swallowing
  • Hoarseness, dry nasal passages, sore throat
  • Bad breath

Why Is Dry Mouth a Problem?

Besides causing the symptoms mentioned above, dry mouth also raises your risk of gingivitis (gum disease), tooth decay, and mouth infections, such as thrush.

Dry mouth can also make it hard to wear dentures.

How Is Dry Mouth Treated?

If you think your dry mouth is caused by certain medication you're taking, talk to your doctor. The doctor may adjust the dose you're taking or switch you to a different drug that doesn't cause dry mouth.

The doctor may also prescribe an oral rinse to restore mouth moisture. If that doesn't help, he or she may prescribe a medication that boosts saliva production called Salagen.

You can also try these other steps, which may help improve saliva flow:

  • Suck on sugar-free candy or chew sugar-free gum.
  • Drink plenty of water to help keep your mouth moist.
  • Brush with a fluoridetoothpaste, use a fluoride rinse, and visit your dentist regularly.
  • Breathe through your nose, not your mouth, as much as possible.
  • Use a room vaporizer to add moisture to the bedroom air.
  • Use an over-the-counter artificial saliva substitute.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Michael Friedman, DDS on August 25, 2014
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How Do I Measure Up? Get the Facts Fast!

Number of Days Per Week I Floss

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Only 18.5% of Americans never floss. You are missing out on a simple way to make a big difference in the health of your mouth. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Floss removes food trapped between the teeth and removes the film of bacteria that forms there before it turns to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Try flossing just one tooth to get started.

You are one of 31% of Americans who don't floss daily. You are missing out on a simple way to make a big difference in the health of your mouth. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Aim for 3 more days!

You are one of 31% of Americans who don't floss daily, but you're well on your way to making a positive impact on your teeth and gums. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Aim for all 7 days!

Only 50.5% of Americans floss daily, and good for you that you are one of them! Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Congratulations on your good oral health habit!

SOURCES:

American Dental Association, Healthy People 2010

This tool is intended only for adults 18 and older.

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