Estimated to affect up to 64.8 percent of the population, dry mouth is quite common. It results from an insufficient amount of saliva in the mouth.
The condition, which is formally called xerostomia, can be caused by a number of factors, such as dehydration, medicinal side effects, or smoking. Even stress can impact your salivary production. Although dry mouth may seem like a relatively harmless condition, it can negatively affect the health of your teeth and gums.
Here are a few ways that dry mouth can be detrimental to your oral health.
Increased Likelihood of Tooth Decay
Tooth decay takes place as acid dissolves the minerals that make up the tooth material. As the dissolution occurs, the tooth enamel weakens, and holes, which are called cavities, may begin to form.
The bacteria in the mouth produce acid as a byproduct of their digestive process. Thus, whenever they feed, they release the decay-causing substance.
The mouth’s natural defense against the acid is saliva. The clear liquid, which is produced by the salivary glands, helps to neutralize acids in the mouth. The pH of normal saliva is relatively neutral. Thus, the secretion helps to raise the pH of acids, making them less corrosive.
When too little saliva is produced, the acid remains quite concentrated. As a result, it is more corrosive to the tooth material and can more rapidly incite decay.
Saliva also helps to prevent tooth decay by rinsing away particles of food that may be left in the mouth following a meal or snack. Since these leftovers become the food source of oral bacteria, by eliminating the particles, saliva helps to reduce the amount of acid produced through bacterial digestion.
Increased Likelihood of Gum Disease
Dry mouth can also increase your chance of developing gum disease. Gum disease begins due to inflammation that is often caused by the exposure of the gingival tissues to acid. When gum disease presents, the inflamed tissues may appear red or swollen. Additionally, they may bleed more easily during brushing and flossing sessions. Just as the saliva’s neutralization of acids lessens the likelihood of tooth decay, it may also reduce the occurrence of gum inflammation.
Increased Incidence of Bad Breath
Dry mouth also causes halitosis, which is commonly called bad breath. Halitosis is largely due to the presence of oral bacteria in the mouth. Many of these microbes live on the tongue, where they produce volatile sulfur compounds. The malodorous gasses are released in the mouth and subsequently into the atmosphere as the mouth is opened.
Normal levels of saliva help rinse away oral bacteria, lowering the number of smelly microbes in the oral cavity. However, when too little saliva is present, there may be an overgrowth of odor-causing bacteria, resulting in halitosis. Saliva also helps remove leftover bits of food from the mouth before they start to rot and emit a foul odor.
Increased Accumulations of Tartar
Tartar develops as plaque that is allowed to remain undisturbed for lengthy periods. The tartar is actually plaque that has hardened in position.
Plaque is a sticky mixture of oral microbes and food particles. The components that comprise the plaque are rinsed away when sufficient amounts of saliva are present in the oral cavity. However, plaque production that results in tartar development may remain unchecked when an insufficient amount of saliva is available.