Dry mouth— caused by a significant decrease in the flow of saliva– — may be more than an occasional nuisance. Without enough saliva to moisten your mouth, you may find it difficult to chew and swallow dry or coarse food, to pronounce words clearly, or to avoid chronic bad breath. Saliva also protectivelycoats the teeth, tongue and gums. A reduced flow of saliva increases the risk of severe tooth decay and mouth soreness.
One of the commonest causes of dry mouth is a drug interaction or adverse effect of prescription medication. Before you engage in self-therapy, contact your physician.
SUGGESTIONS FOR IMPROVING DRY MOUTH
Your doctor will try to find out why your mouth is dry and if possible, correct what is wrong. If your doctor cannot solve the basic problem, he or she may recommend any or all of the following measures:
- DRINK more water and other fluids. But avoid drinking highly acidic juices, such as orange juice, grapefruit juice or lemonade, which tend to aggravate much dryness and increase dental decay
- CARRY water with you. Use a small flask or squeeze bottle so that you can moisten your mouth as needed when water is not readily available.
- STOP smoking. Smoking irritates the mouth.
- AVOID eating dry or coarse foods. But be sure to follow a nutritionally balanced diet. Your doctor or an assistant will help you work out appropriate dietary choices.
- OCCASIONALLY chew sugarless gum or on sugarless hard candy. To avoid increasing the risk of tooth decay, do not rely on gum or candy with sugar. CAUTION: Two ingredients in sugarless gum and candy (mannitol and sorbitol) may cause diarrhea if consumed in large quantities. In addition to the discomfort diarrhea brings, it causes dehydration which may worsen your mouth dryness.
- TAKE high doses daily of niacin or Vitamin C. These vitamins may improve the condition of the lining of the mouth and the surface of the tongue and gums. If your doctor approves of this suggestion, be sure to follow his/her directions.
- AVOID commercial mouthwashes. Most commercial mouthwashes are high in alcohol content and may contain other ingredients that may add to your mouth dryness. Instead make a sodium borate solution or ask your pharmacist to blend one for you unless you are following a low salt diet. The formula for the mouthwash is as follows: 75 ml sodium borate, 75 ml sodium bicarbonate, 15 ml glycerin and 510 ml water. Use this mouthwash full strength as needed. If you are on a low-salt diet, ask your doctor to suggest another mouthwash.
- LIGHTLY coat your mouth with an oil. Cover the lining of your cheeks, tongue and the roof of your mouth with cocoa butter or olive oil as needed. Heavy layers, however, may lead to your swallowing enough to cause diarrhea. Diarrhea can lead to dehydration and mouth dryness.
- TRY one of the artificial saliva products available at many pharmacies.
TIPS TO PREVENT TOOTH DECAY
Your doctor or dentist is likely to ask you to follow a strict program or oral hygiene to reduce the risk of tooth decay associated with dry mouth. He/she may suggest any or all of the following measures:
- BRUSH – your teeth after every meal.
- RINSE – the mouth several times a day with a salt water solution or a sodium bicarbonate and water solution. Ask your dentist/assistant for the exact amounts to mix.
- FLOSS – between the teeth before bedtime.
- APPLY – stannous fluoride. Use a 0.4%. stannous fluoride gel once daily or according to your dentist instructions.
- CHECK-UP – be sure to have your teeth and mouth examined by your dentist every four to six months or more often according to recommendations.