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Stop Dry Mouth Now!

By: Alice Lesch Kelly

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With the possible exception of major-league baseball players, nobody wants to think much about spit. But the truth is, having drought in your mouth is no good for teeth, gums and breath -- plus, it could signal a bigger health problem.

Common Culprits of Dry Mouth
Saliva is your mouth’s cleaning crew: It washes away bacteria that can contribute to tooth decay, gum diseases and infection in the mouth. It also lends a hand when you eat, helping you chew, swallow and digest food -- not to mention, actually enjoy flavors.

But when saliva drains, it leaves your mouth defenseless and your teeth and gums prone to disease. What’s more, dry mouth could be a symptom signaling a serious underlying problem, including diabetes, lupus, kidney disease and nerve damage.

The good news, however, is that dry mouth is actually almost always a side effect of medications. In fact, a whopping 400 different medicines can affect the salivary glands’ ability to manufacture saliva, including antihistamines, antipsychotics, anti-inflammatories, diuretics, sedatives and drugs prescribed for depression, high blood pressure and pain, according to Dr. Raymond K. Martin, a spokesperson for the Academy of General Dentistry. And if you take several medications, your saliva is even more likely to suffer. 

Dry Mouth Rx
The first thing to do if your mouth is constantly dry is to discuss it with your doctor, suggests Martin. If you are otherwise healthy, sometimes simply switching to a different drug manufacturer or slightly lowering the dosage can do the trick. Your physician may also recommend artificial saliva mouthwashes, gels, sprays or medications that boost saliva production.

But if your mouth still feels like it’s not wet enough to whistle, pump up the moisture by trying out some of these handy tips:

  • Drink some water … and keep drinking. You probably already know that you should drink eight glasses of water a day, but this is especially important if you have dry mouth.
  • Chew sugarless gum. Chewing gum helps generate more saliva, naturally keeping your mouth moist and your teeth protected from bacteria.
  • Limit salty, spicy and sugary foods. All of these can make you even more parched.
  • Avoid tobacco, alcohol and caffeinated drinks, which quickly dry the mouth.
  • Use moisturizing lip balm. It helps heal cracked lips, a common consequence of dry mouth.
  • Brush and floss regularly. Be extra-conscientious about your oral care habits, since a lack of saliva can make the mouth a breeding ground for bacteria and cause cavities.
  • Opt for an alcohol-free mouthwash. Research shows that alcohol in high concentrations contributes to dry mouth, causing bad breath. Check the product label to make sure alcohol is not an ingredient.
  • Consider fluoride gel. Talk to your dentist about whether you should use an over-the-counter fluoride rinse or a prescription fluoride gel to protect your teeth from decay.

Alice Lesch Kelly

is a freelance medical writer who has covered women’s health, nutrition and oral health for print publications and the Web. She has co-written four books on women’s health. Her articles frequently appear in Completely You.

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