Dry Mouth Myth Busters

Monday, May 13, 2024

Do you know what the most common oral healthcare problem is? Here are two hints: It affects one in four adults, and it’s not cavities.

The surprising answer is dry mouth. Quenching dry mouth is important for comfort and good oral health. But is drinking more water the right thing to do? Dr. Katherine France, an assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine and provider at Penn Dental Medicine, busts the most common dry mouth myths and explains what you can do about them.

Dry Mouth Myth Busters: What’s Really Going on When You Have a Dry Mouth?

A young man questions what causes dry mouth at night. Before we get to myth-busting, here’s what you should know about dry mouth. Dry mouth, or xerostomia, is a condition characterized by insufficient saliva production. The saliva glands aren’t producing enough saliva, resulting in a dry mouth. Symptoms you may experience include:

  • Difficulty chewing, speaking, or swallowing.
  • Bad breath.
  • Sore throat.
  • Dry or cracked lips.
  • Changes in taste or difficulty tasting food.

What Causes Dry Mouth?

Dry mouth can be caused by a variety of factors, including:

  • Certain medications, such as those used for high blood pressure or depression.
  • Dehydration.
  • Smoking.
  • Alcohol.
  • Breathing through the mouth.
  • Medical conditions like diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, or salivary gland infections or growths.
  • Side effects of radiation therapy or chemotherapy.

It’s important to know that factors causing dry mouth don’t stop at the end of the day. Snoring is a common cause of dry mouth at night.

Determining the reason for dry mouth is important. “Patients may experience a feeling that they don’t have enough saliva in their mouth or a feeling of dryness—which is subjective,” Dr. France notes. “Or, we may be able to determine an objective reason for the dry mouth and notice a clear decrease in saliva for a certain reason.” Determining the difference between the potential causes is critical for diagnosis and treatment.

Dry Mouth Myth No. 1: There’s nothing I can do about it except drink more water.

Actually, that’s not true. While hydration is recommended, simply drinking water may not always be enough to manage dry mouth effectively. “We have quite a few different approaches to either increase the saliva or increase the comfort in people’s mouths,” Dr. France shares.

Along with drinking plenty of water throughout the day, dry mouth treatments may include:

  • Using mouth rinses.
  • Chewing sugar-free gum or lozenges.
  • Avoiding tobacco and alcohol.
  • Maintaining good oral hygiene practices, such as brushing and flossing regularly.
  • Using saliva substitutes or prescription medications.

Dr. France recommends talking to your dentist or healthcare provider if you are experiencing persistent dry mouth. They can help determine the underlying cause and provide appropriate treatment options.

Dry Mouth Myth No. 2: It only happens to older people.

While dry mouth is more common in older adults, people of all ages experience it.

Dry Mouth Myth No. 3: I don’t need to see a dentist. It’s not a health problem, just an annoyance.

An older man holds his hand to his dry mouth as he talks to his dentist about dry mouth treatments.

While some causes may be more uncomfortable than serious, dry mouth can also be a symptom or result of certain diseases or conditions, which, if left untreated, could also impact your oral and overall health.

  • Chronic dry mouth has been linked to an increased risk of oral cancer.
  • Saliva plays a crucial role in digestion, helping to break down food and protect the teeth and gums. Without enough saliva, you may experience difficulties with digestion and nutrient absorption.
  • If left untreated, dry mouth can lead to a variety of oral health problems. Without enough saliva, the mouth becomes a breeding ground for bacteria, leading to an increased risk of tooth decay, cavities, gum disease, and infections. Additionally, dry mouth can make it difficult to wear dentures comfortably or even speak properly.

Your dentist or healthcare provider can diagnose your condition and ensure you follow the correct treatment to manage dry mouth and its underlying causes effectively. “We in oral medicine have specialty training in treating dry mouth as well as any other problem with the salivary glands,” Dr. France explains. We evaluate all contributing factors and provide recommendations to get our patients relief.”

A young man sits at his laptop in a conference room, happy that his dry mouth has been treated.

Treating Dry Mouth at Penn Dental Medicine

If you or a loved one is suffering from dry mouth, don’t let any of these myths stop you from doing something about it. Talk to us at Penn Dental Medicine. We’ll not only make you more comfortable, but we’ll diagnose the cause and help ensure your condition doesn’t worsen or impact your health in other ways.

To make an appointment at our Philadelphia location, simply fill out this form or call 215-898-8965. In the meantime, take a moment to watch the video.

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