Dry Mouth and the Risk of Dental Damage

Sep 20, 2016 @ 12:35 PM — by Neil L. Starr, DDS

An older woman with a healthy looking smileDry mouth is a condition in which inadequate saliva is produced and, if left untreated, it can lead to serious dental damage. This is because dry mouth allows acids and food debris to stay in contact with the teeth and gums, leading to such problems as tooth decay and gum disease. Dry mouth and dental damage should be treated as soon as possible to prevent further damage and restore oral health. Dr. Neil L. Starr offers restorative dentistry treatments to repair dental damage and enhance the smile. To find out which treatments for dry mouth and dental damage are right for you, contact our Washington, DC office today.

What Is Dry Mouth?

Also called xerostomia, dry mouth is an oral health condition in which insufficient saliva is produced. Determining the cause of dry mouth can be difficult because there are many underlying causes and some people may experience more than one cause. Some of the common causes of dry mouth include breathing dry air, dehydration, damaged salivary glands, salivary gland infection, genetics, or smoking.  For some, dry mouth may be temporary while others may experience prolonged, chronic symptoms. The symptoms of dry mouth include:

  • Sore, dry throat
  • Dry, sticky feeling in the mouth
  • A red, dry, raw tongue
  • Burning sensation in the mouth, including the tongue
  • Frequently feeling thirsty
  • Sores in the mouth 

Dry Mouth and Dental Damage

Long term dry mouth can cause serious dental damage. This is because saliva plays an important role in regulating oral health, helping to wash away food debris, neutralize acids, and replenish minerals in the enamel. Without adequate saliva, your oral health may suffer and one or more of the following issues may occur:

  • Enamel erosion: The enamel is the outer, protective layer of the teeth. The enamel is at increased risk of erosion when dry mouth is present; the lack of saliva increases acid exposure and reduces mineral replenishing. Over time, enamel erosion can lead to tooth decay.
  • Tooth decay: Tooth decay is more likely when dry mouth occurs. Tooth decay develops when plaque and tartar build up on the teeth.  
  • Gum disease: Gum disease, or periodontal disease, is a serious oral health problem and a common issue for dry mouth sufferers. Gum disease is a bacterial infection of the gums that can spread within the mouth and to the structures supporting the teeth, increasing the risk of tooth decay and tooth loss.
  • Tooth loss: Tooth loss may occur as a result of untreated dental damage from dry mouth.
  • Tooth discoloration: Though mostly a cosmetic issue, tooth discoloration occurs faster and more often in those who suffer from dry mouth.

Alleviating Dry Mouth and Protecting Oral Health

Protecting the smile from the damage of dry mouth begins with a thorough dental exam to help pinpoint the underlying cause and treat dental damage. Once the cause of dry mouth is determined, one or more of the following treatments may be recommended to alleviate the symptoms:

  • Drinking plenty of water to stay hydrated
  • Using an over-the-counter saliva substitute
  • Using an air humidifier to prevent breathing dry air
  • Chewing sugar-free gum or sugar-free hard candies to stimulate saliva production

Discover Your Treatment Options

To find out which treatments are right for, we invite you to schedule a consultation with Dr. Starr.

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