Associates of Dental Arts
Dr. Gregory Kivett

Dry Mouth Increases Risk for Cavities

Tooth in Desert with Cactus

Do you floss and brush every day but still seem to have new cavities every time you go to the dentist? A dry mouth may part of your problem. You probably never really associated dry mouth with cavities. However, a new study shows that saliva can play a very important role in carries prevention. Improving your saliva production is a natural way to protect your mouth from harmful mouth bacteria and reduce your number of costly cavities.

How Bacteria Cause Cavities

Your teeth are protected by a hard outer layer called enamel. When this enamel is compromised, you get what is called a cavity. Bacteria sit on your teeth feeding on sugars and starches in your food and create a biofilm called dental plaque. This plaque eventually leads to tartar (a.k.a. calculus). Plaque and tartar will eat away at your enamel and cause cavities.

Avoiding Cavities

Brushing your teeth and using mouthwash helps remove food particles and kills harmful bacteria. Regular visits to your hygienist helps remove any cavity causing plaque and calculus from your teeth. Using fluoridated products helps keep your enamel strong. But even with these treatments, some people still have a problem with cavities.

How Saliva Protects Your Teeth

Saliva is 99.5 percent water. The remaining .5 percent is made up of large glycoproteins called salivary mucins. Salivary mucins do not kill bacteria, strengthen enamel, or remove plaque and tartar. Instead, they surround the bacteria so the bacteria is unable to build plaque on your teeth. No plaque, no tartar, no cavities! Keeping your saliva production up is a great way to ensure healthy teeth.

Do you have dry mouth?

Symptoms may include:

  • Mouth feeling dry (cotton mouth)
  • Problems chewing, swallowing, tasting and speaking
  • Bad breath
  • Cracked lips
  • A Dry, irritated tongue
  • Sores in your mouth
  • Waking up because you are thirsty
  • Gum inflammation
  • Problem wearing dentures
  • Dry throat

What Causes Dry Mouth?

Here are some common causes of dry mouth:

  • Side effects of medication. More than 400 medications list dry mouth as a side effect!
  • Illness. Some diseases such as Sjögren's Syndrome, diabetes and Parkinson’s affect the salivary glands, and causes in dry mouth.
  • Radiation therapy. Salivary glands can be damaged if by radiation for cancer treatment.
  • Chemotherapy. Drugs used to treat cancer can make the saliva thicker so your mouth feels dry
  • Nerve Damage. Injury to the head or neck can damage the nerves that tell the salivary glands to make saliva.

How to avoid dry mouth and protect your teeth from cavities.

Here are some tips for avoiding dry mouth:

  • Drink a lot of water to avoid dehydration.
  • Sucking and chewing actions help stimulate saliva flow. Try chewing sugarless gum or sucking on sugar-free hard candies, ice chips, or sugar-free popsicles.
  • Do not use mouthwash that contains alcohol or peroxide because it can dry out your mouth
  • Avoid salty foods and dry foods such as crackers, toast, dried meats and dried fruits.
  • Avoid foods and beverages with high sugar content.
  • Limit drinks containing alcohol or caffeine. Alcohol and caffeine dry out the mouth. Alcohol also causes dehydration by causing frequent urination.
  • Avoid acidic beverages such as fruit juice and tomato juice.
  • Use a humidifier to increase the humidity in your home, especially at night.
  • Quite smoking.
  • Try a special mouthwash such as Biotene.

If you think a dry mouth may be causing you problems with your teeth, call your dentist. They can help you identify the cause and work on a solution that will work for you.

 

Articles:

On saliva and cavities

Dry Mouth

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