Do you experience dry mouth? Perhaps you may notice difficulty keeping your mouth wet after starting a new medication or medical treatment. It may be a condition that you observe over time as you age. Even ingesting alcohol, tobacco, or recreational drugs can contribute to a dry mouth.
Dry mouth occurs when your salivary glands don’t produce enough saliva to keep your mouth moist. It may seem like a minor issue. However, dry mouth can cause many problems. Dry mouth is more than just a nuisance. It is a medical condition that needs treatment. Without treatment, you may be at risk of tooth decay or gum disease.
One symptom of dry mouth is bad breath. This is because your teeth, gums, and the soft tissues in your mouth require a moist environment to stay healthy. In addition, saliva has an essential role in keeping your mouth damp and washing away food particles. If there is not enough saliva to wash away food particles, the food particles will break down in your mouth. The breakdown of these particles causes an odor–or bad breath.
Saliva is also responsible for neutralizing acids created by plaque. Without enough saliva, plaque buildup can greatly increase and cause a domino effect of tooth decay and gum disease. In addition, both tooth decay and gum disease can create bad breath as a side effect.
A dry mouth is an environment in which bacteria can thrive. Part of saliva’s job is to remove food particles and neutralize harmful acids created by bacteria. Without enough saliva, bacteria will multiply. This means that the number of acids they create will increase as well. The more acids in your mouth, the more likely you are to develop cavities.
Acids will break down the enamel on your teeth. The enamel is the outside layer of your teeth. Enamel protects the dentin and pulp–the soft, nerve-carrying portion of the tooth–from decaying. Once the enamel is gone, restoring it is not an option. However, saliva and a good oral hygiene routine can prevent cavities and tooth decay.
Along with an increased risk of tooth decay, lack of saliva production can lead to gum disease. This is because the soft tissues in your mouth require saliva to keep them healthy. Additionally, increased plaque buildup–a side effect of dry mouth–can cause gingivitis (early-stage gum disease).
One job of saliva is to help break down food and make it easier to digest. While your teeth physically break food into smaller pieces for you to swallow, saliva will chemically break down food. This process is essential for swallowing. Eating is difficult without saliva. Imagine eating a saltine cracker without saliva. The cracker may make your mouth feel like cement and impossible to swallow. Likewise, a dry mouth can make many of your favorite foods feel like eating a cracker without water.
Saliva also has enzymes that aid in digestion. These enzymes also help you to absorb nutrients from your food. Saliva is vital for eating. Without it, you can experience malnutrition from the difficulty of eating and the inability to absorb nutrients.