It makes sense that bacteria grow in environments that are warm, moist and dark. We learned this in high school science classes. ‘Warm, moist and dark’ pretty much describes the ‘oral cavity’ (which includes the teeth, soft gum tissues, palate and tongue). So, it may seem odd that a ‘dry mouth’ would contribute to gum disease?
Frequent dry mouth is known as Xerostomia (prounounced zeer-o-stoe-me-ah). This is when the salivary glands produce an inadequate flow of saliva to keep the mouth wet. Dry mouth often occurs from smoking, as a side effect of many medications, a part of the aging process, be a result of radiation therapy, and other reasons.
The reason that a dry mouth promotes oral bacteria is because this allows oral bacteria to remain in the mouth. The longer oral bacteria are in the mouth, the more they reproduce. Without saliva serving as a continual rinsing agent to keep bacteria levels in the mouth under control, oral bacteria breeds and accumulates at a rapid pace. Dry mouth is a common contributor to gum disease.
Below are common contributors to dry mouth and how to minimize their impact on your oral health:
Oral medications – A side effect of many prescription and over-the-counter medications is oral dryness. You can ask your prescribing physician for alternatives that have less drying side effects, but some medications may not offer many choices along those lines. This is especially true for meds used to treat allergies and antidepressants. Be aware of this side effect (and all side effects) for the medications you take and watch how your mouth feels during the day. Drink plenty of filtered, unsweetened water throughout the day. Try to minimize other things that can contribute to oral dryness, including…
Caffeine – Many foods and beverages contain caffeine. These include coffee (including decaf), tea, chocolate, and colas. Keep in mind that those that also contain sugar will ramp up the bacteria growth rate in your mouth. We certainly don’t want you to forgo your morning coffee or afternoon Earl Grey. However, being aware of the drying effects they cause in your mouth should remind you to follow these beverages with a glass of water.
Alcohol – Beverages containing alcohol, including wine, contribute to a dry mouth. And, because mixed drinks often include mixers that contain sugar, your mouth gets a double whammy of dryness coupled with sugar-loving bacterial growth. When enjoying a cocktail or wine, make it a rule of thumb to follow each drink with twice the amount of water. Try taking gulps and allowing the water to rinse over the teeth before swallowing. This will help to rinse out oral bacteria and dilute oral acids in the mouth.
Smoking – I’m sure you get enough lectures about smoking and I’m not going to add to them. My desire is that you minimize the drying effects of the toxins in cigarette and cigar smoke by drinking lots of water throughout the day. Chew sugarless gum several times during the day to promote saliva flow. And, use an oral rinse that is designed specifically to replenish moisture in the mouth. These are available in most drug stores over-the-counter. (This also applies to those who ‘vape.’ Ecigs can cause oral dryness as well as dry eyes, headaches and fatigue. See: http://vape-resource.com/is-vaping-making-you-chronically-dehydrated/)
Mouth breathing – People who have chronic sinus problems and people who snore breath in and out through their mouths more often than others. This dries out oral tissues and forces the saliva glands to work harder. When you add in other contributors to oral dryness, such as drinking colas and some medications, mouth breathing can be the proverbial straw. Snoring can easily be remedied with custom-made oral appliances that are small and comfortable. (Ask us about making one for you or putting you in touch with patients who sleep soundly with these.) Chronic sinus problems should be discussed with your physician or ENT.
Aging – A part of the aging process, like joints that are stiff, is a dryer mouth. Yet, for those who are 50 and over, most know to ‘adjust’ as they experience age-related problems. For example, many over-50’s take a fish oil supplement to help joints stay more lubricated. To combat bone loss, some people (especially females) take a high-level calcium supplement. So, for those who are experiencing oral dryness, drinking more water, chewing sugarless gum and swishing with a re-hydrating oral rinse can all help. Also, know the other contributors to a dry mouth (as mentioned above) and ‘adjust’ to protect your smile!
Take good care of your oral health and it will take good care of your overall well-being. Although gum disease is the nation’s leading cause of adult tooth loss – a terrible consequence – it goes from bad to worse. Research has found that certain strains of advanced periodontal disease bacteria are contributing factors to many serious health problems.
Be committed to your smile by starting with a thorough dental examination. Call 586-739-2155 to schedule.