It's that sticky or dry feeling in the mouth all of us get once in a while. But for some it could be more than just an inconvenience. It's believed 44 million Americans suffer from the problem. Tuesday we break down the dangers of dry mouth.
ER Nurse Lauren Geeter is always on the move, but a side effect of her acid reflux meds made constant water breaks a part of her routine.
"I knew my mouth was dry, but I guess I always had dry mouth and never really thought of it as anything," says Lauren Geeter who suffers from dry mouth.
Lauren's dry mouth resulted in a mouth full of cavities.
"If the bacteria are growing in their mouth, there could be a systemic threat to their whole body," explains Stephen Hsu, PhD Professor of Oral Biology, at Georgia Health Sciences University.
Doctor Stephen Hsu says ignoring it can lead to lots of trouble.
"The complications can be severe," says Dr. Hsu.
Saliva neutralizes acid and protects against bacterial growth. Dry mouth results in a lack of saliva and can lead to tooth decay and gum disease.
If you're one of the millions with dry mouth, cutting out things high in sugar and acid, like soda, sports drinks and candy is a good idea. Doctor Hsu says green tea extract is also a great way to fight the problem.
"We found a lot of protective properties from the green tea polyphenols," describes Dr. Hsu.
He's even developed a special chewing gum to stimulate saliva flow.
Eating fibrous foods can help make up for a lack of mouth-cleaning saliva.
Harvard experts say crunchy fruits and vegetables like apples and carrots are mild abrasives that can remove bacteria and plaque from teeth.
People with the problem should also use alcohol-free mouthwashes and check the labels of their toothpaste. If it contains the dry mouth irritant sodium lauryl sulfate, find a new brand.
Now, Lauren uses Doctor Hsu's gum to help take care of her dry mouth, so she can focus on taking care of others.
The Mayo Clinic recommends a few other home remedies. Running a humidifier at night can help with dry mouth. Breathing through your nose instead of your mouth can also be beneficial.
Also, avoid over-the-counter anti-histamines and decongestants. They can make your symptoms worse.
Dry mouth dangers
IMPORTANCE OF SALIVA: Xerostomia, the medical term for dry mouth, is not only annoying but can also lead to a host of other issues. Saliva is important for several reasons. When a person is experiencing a dry mouth, then they are not producing enough saliva needed for a healthy mouth. Saliva helps to prevent tooth decay by washing away excess food particles that may be in the mouth or teeth, enhances the ability to taste, makes it easier to swallow food, and the enzymes found in saliva also help food digestion. So other than dental problems, dry mouth can make the process of eating and digesting food more difficult.
CAUSES: Although some people naturally produce less saliva than others, a persistent dry mouth can be the result of several different things.
1. Many different medications can cause dry mouth including anxiety and depression medications, drugs for urinary incontinence, and high blood pressure medications.
2. Tobacco use such as smoking can cause dry mouth.
3. Health conditions such as Parkinson's disease, HIV, and diabetes can cause dry mouth either because of the disease itself or because of the treatments used to help these conditions.
SYMPTOMS: If a person is experiencing dry mouth they may have more irritating symptoms than just cavities. Some more common symptoms associated with dry mouth include:
1. Bad breath
2. Cracked lips, sores, or split skin at the corners of the mouth
3. Sore throat or difficulty speaking
STOP DRY MOUTH: If the dry mouth is severe and is the result of a particular medication then your doctor may be able to switch the medications for something that will not cause a dry mouth. However, for those who experience dry mouth due to some other reason or do not want to switch medications there are other easy remedies to prevent a dry mouth. For one, stop smoking or chewing tobacco since it can cause dry mouth or make an already dry mouth worse. Try to avoid drinking too much caffeine as that can cause dry mouth too. Drinking water throughout the day, chewing no-sugar gum, and using a fluoride rinse or toothpaste each night can also help boost saliva production and prevent the symptoms of a dry mouth. (Source: www.mayoclinic.com)
For More Information, Contact:
Denise Parrish, Clinical Affairs
Georgia Health Sciences University