Tooth Talk: Do You Have Xerostomia?

Do you have xerostomia?

Your answer is most likely: “I hope not!”

Fear not! Xerostomia is actually the medical name for “Dry Mouth.”

Dry mouth is not something to be ignored or taken lightly.

Dry mouth is caused by the lack of saliva for a long period of time. Multiple causes for dry mouth exist, including medications, diseases, and certain medical treatments.

Dry mouth is uncomfortable, but more importantly, it increases your risk of dental decay, which can destroy your teeth very rapidly. It also makes it difficult for dentures to fit properly. If you feel that your mouth is dry most of the time, you should tell your dentist. Your dentist should recommend a variety of ways to treat your symptoms and protect your mouth and teeth. Oral rinses, fluoride applications, dietary counseling, and oral hygiene methods are a few of the common recommendations.

Dry mouth also has other health consequences. Chewing and swallowing become increasingly difficult which impacts your ability to eat and enjoy certain foods. This can lead to serious digestive and nutritional problems. Dry mouth often makes it difficult to speak, causes a sore mouth, throat, and tongue, bad breath and hoarseness. Tell you physician about your symptoms and request assistance in managing your symptoms and eliminating the cause, if possible.

There are over 400 medications that result in dry mouth. The medications range from over-the-counter to antihistamines, antidepressants, muscle relaxants, high blood pressure medicines, and pain medications. Other causes include: cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy of the head and neck, hormone changes, systemic diseases like diabetes and many others. Snoring and open-mouth breathing increase dry mouth symptoms. Anxiety and stress may also trigger dry mouth.

Relieve dry mouth symptoms by drinking plenty of water, sucking on ice chips or drinking sugar-free and caffeine-free drinks. Avoid irritants such as, alcohol and tobacco, salty and spicy foods. Use a humidifier in your room at night. Consider using a saliva substitute, either over-the-counter or by prescription. There are a variety of forms of saliva substitutes; rinses, sprays, swabs, gels, and tablets that dissolve in the mouth.

Do You Have Missing Teeth?

It is important to replace missing teeth for proper chewing of food, jaw support, stability of the remaining teeth, and an attractive smile. Missing teeth disrupts proper function and the teeth next to and above the missing tooth/teeth will shift, move, and tip into the space in time. It is much easier to restore a missing tooth soon after it is lost than waiting a number of years after teeth have shifted significantly. A dentist or prosthodontist can determine the best method to replace your missing tooth or teeth.

Missing teeth are replace through removable partial dentures, fixed dental prostheses (“bridges”), or dental implants. A discussion with your dentist would help in determining which option is right for you.

Missing Teeth Lead to Other Health Problems:

  • Infection- gum disease
  • Bone damage- loss of bone in jaw
  • Collapse of bite- teeth no longer fit together to chew
  • Remaining teeth shift, tilt, and extrude
  • Grinding and clenching- causes excessive wear and pain
  • Broken teeth- remaining teeth are over stressed
  • Headaches
  • Joint pain- TMJ (temporomandibular joint)
  • Collapse or lower face
  • Collapse of lips
  • Premature aging
  • Loss of ability to chew nutritious foods
  • Digestive problems
  • Illness
  • Lower life expectancy by 10 year