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How dry mouth affects oral health
How dry mouth affects oral health
Written by Brian Maurer
Updated over a week ago

What is dry mouth?

Dry mouth is a condition where saliva is not made in sufficient quantities. Saliva is extremely important for keeping your mouth healthy because it has several protective characteristics.

One reason for this is harmful bacteria can typically only survive in our mouth if they manage to hold on and not get swallowed. Saliva contains proteins that stick to the bacteria and act as a natural rinse to remove them. These proteins include lysozymes that attack bacteria's cell walls and make them burst, and antibodies, that prevent bacteria from settling onto our teeth and tongue.

Saliva also helps promote beneficial bacteria that help control the levels of harmful species known to cause cavities, gum disease, and more. Saliva extracts nitrate from our diets and feeds healthy bacteria, called nitrate-reducing species, helping to produce nitrous oxide, which aids in lowering blood pressure and increasing cognitive function. In addition, these species naturally release low levels of hydrogen peroxide and other byproducts, which kill the bacterial species associated with halitosis and gum disease.

Causes of dry mouth

  1. When we sleep, our saliva flow nearly stops – which is why we often experience bad breath when we wake up.

  2. Certain medicines – particularly antianxiety drugs that people suffering from social anxiety may use.

  3. Drinking alcohol – like certain medicines, alcohol works as a diuretic that tells our kidneys not to absorb the water.

  4. Dehydration – lack of liquid, in general, will minimize our saliva flow as we don’t have enough fluid to produce the saliva we need.

  5. Missing meals – chewing increases saliva in the mouth, while certain foods high in water like cucumber and soups can promote hydration.

How to increase saliva production

Individuals struggling with dry mouth can consider several options to increase their saliva production. Oral hygiene recommendations include chewing a sugar-free or xylitol gum and xylitol lozenges.

Similarly, xylitol-containing mouthwashes like Biotene Dry Mouth Oral Rinse or ACT Total Care Dry Mouth mouthwash support saliva production and prevent bad breath. Xylitol is a natural sugar alcohol found in plants, including many fruits and vegetables, that can reduce harmful bacteria in our mouths.

The intake of alcohol, caffeine, and mouthwashes that contain alcohol also leads to dry mouth. Limiting these substances can also improve oral health care and overall health.

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