Whether you recently tried a new mouthwash that is high in alcohol content, just ate a sleeve of saltine crackers, or are going through cancer treatments, the resulting dry mouth can be uncomfortable and embarrassing. Worse yet, that sticky feeling that isn’t easily fixed with a glass of water isn’t just annoying. Dry mouth can have a big impact on oral, dental, and even your overall health.
Known medically as xerostomia, dry mouth reportedly affects around 10 percent of the population. (1) I suspect it’s much higher, though, as many people don’t realize they have it. The term “dry mouth” may conjure thoughts of a completely barren oral cavity that produces no moisture whatsoever. But even low production of saliva (less than the 1 to 2 liters produced by a healthy mouth) is cause for concern.
Trained dentists can spot someone struggling with this condition, often before the patient realizes they’re experiencing it. And this is important because, when left untreated, dry mouth can wreck the oral microbiome, ultimately leading to cavities, bad breath, and other oral issues.
Consequences of Dry Mouth
Cavities: You may think that poor brushing and flossing habits (or consumption of too many cookies and candies) is the primary cause of cavity formation, but that distinction actually belongs to dry mouth.
Cavities are holes in your teeth that are formed by bacteria that excrete acids onto the teeth. These acids then eat away at enamel, causing decay. In a healthy mouth, saliva protects against these acids and prevent cavities by washing away harmful bacteria and supporting remineralization.
Dry mouth obviously disrupts this process by not allowing teeth to bathe in saliva, and it can also cause the pH of the mouth drop into the acidic zone, which further promotes cavities by allowing harmful bacteria to multiply. Even a few hours of dry mouth can disrupt the mouth’s microbiome and increase your chances of a cavity.
Imbalanced oral microbiome: Just like your gut, your mouth has a microbiome that affects your health. When the bacteria in your mouth are balanced, it promotes healing, remineralization, and an overall happy mouth. But when the oral microbiome disrupted due to dry mouth, leading to an overgrowth of bad bacteria and a decrease in the numbers of beneficial bacteria, the risk for infection, cavities, and oral yeast infection (thrush) goes up.
Digestive issues: Speaking of your gut, it’s important to note that digestion starts in your mouth. If you don’t have adequate saliva to start breaking down food into small enough pieces, and if you have an excess of bad bacteria in your mouth due to an acidic oral pH level, the rest of your digestive system may suffer. And because what happens in the mouth happens in the body, an abundance of bad bacteria in your mouth can even affect the balance of bacteria in your gut.
Mouth sores: Without enough saliva to neutralize the acids in your mouth and hydrate delicate oral tissue, painful mouth sores can occur. These are especially common in cancer…