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How Dry Mouth Endangers Your Teeth

Dry mouth is a common problem for many of us, especially as we get older. It can make your mouth uncomfortable and sticky. You might have bad flavors that linger or generate spontaneously. But it’s easy to dismiss that as a nuisance.

It would be wrong to dismiss dry mouth as a nuisance: it’s a serious danger to your oral health.

A photo of a mouth wide open

What Saliva Does for You

Saliva is more than just moisture in your mouth: it’s a complex solution formulated to preserve your oral health. Saliva acts as a an antimicrobial wash, a buffer solution, and even a patch kit for your teeth.

Saliva contains many natural antibiotics that are capable of killing the bacteria that cling to your teeth and gums. And because your body should be generating saliva constantly, it keeps washing your teeth all day long. That way food debris and bacteria don’t stay on your teeth too long.

Acid is the main enemy of your teeth. Tooth enamel is very hard, but it’s made of minerals that are vulnerable to acidic attack. Acidity is measured with pH, where 7 is neutral and anything below 7 is acidic. It only takes a pH of 5.5 for your tooth enamel to start to dissolve. For reference, most colas have a pH of about 2.5. Saliva typically has a pH of about 8. It is formulated to neutralize acids in the foods you eat as well as that generated by bacteria on your teeth. Without enough saliva, your teeth are more likely to suffer decay and erosion.

Your saliva also helps repair your teeth. When the pH in your mouth gets high enough, minerals in your saliva can react to replace minerals lost from your tooth enamel.

What’s Causing Your Dry Mouth

If you want to deal successfully with dry mouth, you need to figure out why it’s happening. Most of the time, dry mouth is related to one of these causes:

  • Dehydration
  • Mouth breathing (especially at night)
  • Medications and cancer treatment
  • Smoking
  • Illness

Dehydration is very common, but it’s also easy to fix. Make sure you’re drinking enough water and getting enough electrolytes to hold the water you’re consuming. Also watch out for habits that contribute to dehydration, such as spending time outside in the heat, exercising, or drinking alcohol. Cut down on alcohol consumption if you regularly drink more than moderate amounts (1-2 drinks per day).

Mouth breathing can lead to destructive dry mouth at night. Your saliva production naturally drops overnight, so if you’re breathing through your mouth, t can dry out fairly quickly, which allows bacteria to flourish and tooth decay to increase while you sleep. Mouth breathing is often related to snoring or sleep apnea, and treatment can help remedy it.

Dry mouth is one of the most common side effects of medications. In addition, both radiation therapy and chemotherapy can reduce your saliva production. Check your medications or talk to your doctor about this side effect. Never spontaneously stop taking medication just because you suspect a side effect.

Tobacco use, including smoking and smokeless tobacco, can cause dry mouth. This is one of the reasons why it’s so harmful to your oral health, threatening teeth and dental implants.

Some health conditions can also contribute to dry mouth by affecting your body’s ability to produce saliva or the character of the saliva produced.

In some cases, medications can stimulate saliva production. Other times, a saliva substitute is recommended.

Repairing Damage Related to Dry Mouth

Because dry mouth affects your entire mouth, it can lead to widespread damage to all your teeth and gums. Restorative dentistry procedures like dental crowns, root canal therapy, and even dental implants may be necessary to repair damage related to dry mouth.

If you have had your teeth damaged because of dry mouth in Valdosta, GA, please call (229) 242-5511 today for an appointment with restorative dentist Dr. Nelson Clements.