Dry Mouth and Tooth Decay

Dry mouth, also known as Xerostomia, can increase a person’s risk of tooth decay. Saliva contains enzymes that help break down food particles and rinse the mouth of bacteria.  Without adequate saliva flow an increase in tooth decay can occur.  Symptoms of dry mouth include a sticky, dry feeling in the mouth and throat, frequent thirst, sores in the mouth, burning, tingling sensations in the mouth, dry, red, raw tongue, problems swallowing food, hoarseness, and bad breath.  Dry mouth at night is a very common condition.  Salivary glands do not flow as well during sleeping hours.  Therefore, it is important to practice good oral hygiene right before bed. Persistent dry mouth during sleeping and waking hours can lead to more severe problems. Causes of dry mouth include side effects of certain medications also known as drug-induced xerostomia, side effects of certain diseases and infections, side effects of radiation to the head and neck and chemotherapy treatment for cancer, nerve damage to the head and neck, dehydration, surgical removal of salivary glands, smoking or chewing tobacco, and mouth breathing.  If you think that your dry mouth is caused by medication, talk to your doctor.  He or she may be able to adjust your medication or switch you to a different medication that does not cause dry mouth.  If medication can not be altered, over the counter saliva substitutes can be used.  Products such as Biotene and Oasis help increase the production of saliva.  Good oral hygiene is also very important.  Brushing with fluoride toothpaste, using fluoride rinses and gels, and regular dental exams will help decrease tooth decay.  Overall, if you notice increase in tooth decay due to dry mouth, consult with your dental professional on ways to control this issue.