Like most people, you’ve no doubt experienced occasional dry mouth as when you’re thirsty or just waking from sleep. These are normal occurrences that usually don’t last long.
But xerostomia or chronic dry mouth is another matter. Not only is this continual lack of adequate saliva uncomfortable, it could increase your risk for tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease.
What’s more, chronic dry mouth can have a number of causes. Here are 3 common causes and what you can do about them.
Inadequate fluid intake. While this may seem obvious, it’s still common—you’re simply not consuming enough water. This deprives the salivary glands of adequate fluid to produce the necessary amount of saliva. If you’re regularly thirsty, you’ll need to increase the amount of water you drink during the day.
Medications. More than 500 drugs, both over-the-counter and prescription, can cause dry mouth as a side effect. This is one reason why older adults, who on average take more medications, have increased problems with dry mouth. There are some things you can do: first, talk with your healthcare provider about alternative drugs for your condition that are less likely to cause dry mouth; drink more water right before taking your medication and right afterward; and increase your daily intake of water.
Diseases and treatments. Some systemic diseases like diabetes or Parkinson’s disease can lead to xerostomia. Autoimmune conditions are especially problematic because the body may turn on its own tissues, the salivary glands being a common target. Radiation or chemotherapy treatments can also damage the glands and lead to decreased saliva production. If you have such a condition, talk with your healthcare provider about ways to protect your salivary glands.
You can also ease dry mouth symptoms with saliva boosters like xylitol gum or medications that stimulate saliva production. Limit your intake of caffeinated drinks and sugary or acidic foods. And be sure you stay diligent with your oral hygiene habits and regular dental visits to further reduce your risks of dental disease.
If you would like more information on the causes and treatments of dry mouth, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Dry Mouth: Learn about the Causes and Treatment of this Common Problem.”
There's ample evidence tobacco smoking increases your risk for tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease. But the same may be true for electronic cigarettes (E-cigs): Although millions have turned to “vaping” believing it's a safer alternative to smoking, there are growing signs it might also be harmful to oral health.
An E-cig is a device with a chamber that holds a liquid solution. An attached heater turns the liquid into a vapor the user inhales, containing nicotine, flavorings and other substances. Because it doesn't contain tar and other toxic substances found in tobacco, many see vaping as a safer way to get a nicotine hit.
But a number of recent research studies seem to show vaping isn't without harmful oral effects. A study from Ohio State University produced evidence that E-cig vapor interferes with the mouth's bacterial environment, or oral microbiome, by disrupting the balance between harmful and beneficial bacteria in favor of the former. Such a disruption can increase the risk for gum disease.
Other studies from the University of Rochester, New York and Universit? Laval in Quebec, Canada also found evidence for vaping's negative effects on oral cells. The Rochester study found astringent flavorings and other substances in vaping solutions can damage cells. The Quebec study found a staggering increase in the normal oral cell death rate from 2% to 53% in three days after exposure to E-cig vapor.
Nicotine, E-cig's common link with tobacco, is itself problematic for oral health. This addictive chemical constricts blood vessels and reduces blood flow to the mouth's tissues. This not only impedes the delivery of nutrients to individual cells, but also reduces available antibodies necessary to fight bacterial infections. Regardless of how nicotine enters the body—whether through smoking or vaping—it can increase the risk of gum disease.
These are the first studies of their kind, with many more needed to fully understand the effects of vaping on the mouth. But the preliminary evidence they do show should cause anyone using or considering E-cigs as an alternative to smoking to think twice. Your oral health may be hanging in the balance.
You would love to replace your missing teeth with dental implants. And for good reason — they're the best way to restore life-like, functional teeth. But there's one problem — implants and fixed bridgework (the next, best option) are financially out of your reach.
There's another viable option, though, that might fit your budget — removable partial dentures (RPDs). Similar to full dentures, RPDs replace only the missing teeth in a dental arch. And they're much less expensive than implants or bridgework.
RPDs are custom made to fit an individual patient and their particular missing teeth locations. Their frameworks are usually made of vitallium, a strong but lightweight metal alloy. With vitallium, the frame can be made thin enough not to be noticeable but still conduct sensation.
A pink resin or plastic that mimics gum tissue covers the frame, to which we attach prosthetic (false) teeth made of porcelain, glass-filled resin or plastic to precisely match the missing teeth locations. The RPD is held in place with small metal clasps that fit around remaining natural teeth.
RPDs are designed to minimize movement and avoid undue pressure on the gum ridges, which could accelerate underlying bone loss. In certain situations, though, the location of some missing teeth could complicate matters. If you're missing a tooth in the back where the appliance coverage ends, the RPD may not be as stable.
The solution, ironically, could be a dental implant placed strategically at the end of the RPD, where it connects securely with the appliance. You would only need one or two implants, which won't dramatically increase costs.
One thing to remember with an RPD: they tend to accumulate bacterial plaque, the trigger for both tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease. That's why it's important to practice daily effective hygiene by cleaning the RPD and your remaining teeth and gums, as well as taking the RPD out at night.
A well-maintained RPD could last for many years. With this appliance you can still have functional teeth and a winning smile, even without implants.
If you would like more information on removable dentures, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Removable Partial Dentures: Still a Viable Tooth-Replacement Alternative.”
Kathy Bates has been a familiar face to filmgoers since her Oscar-winning performance as Annie Wilkes in Misery. She's best known for playing true-to-life characters like Wilkes or Barbara Jewell in last year's Richard Jewell (for which she earned her fourth Oscar nomination). To keep it real, she typically eschews cosmetic enhancements—with one possible exception: her smile.
Although happy with her teeth in general, Bates noticed they seemed to be “moving around” as she got older. This kind of misalignment is a common consequence of the aging process, a result of the stresses placed on teeth from a lifetime of chewing and biting.
Fortunately, there was an orthodontic solution for Bates, and one compatible with her film career. Instead of traditional braces, Bates chose clear aligners, a newer method for moving teeth first introduced in the late 1990s.
Clear aligners are clear, plastic trays patients wear over their teeth. A custom sequence of these trays is developed for each patient based on their individual bite dimensions and treatment goals. Each tray in the sequence, worn in succession for about two weeks, places pressure on the teeth to move in the prescribed direction.
While clear aligners work according to the same teeth-moving principle as braces, there are differences that make them more appealing to many people. Unlike traditional braces, which are highly noticeable, clear aligners are nearly invisible to others apart from close scrutiny. Patients can also take them out, which is helpful with eating, brushing and flossing (a challenge for wearers of braces) and rare social occasions.
That latter advantage, though, could pose a problem for immature patients. Clear aligner patients must have a suitable level of self-responsibility to avoid the temptation of taking the trays out too often. Families of those who haven't reached this level of maturity may find braces a better option.
Clear aligners also don't address quite the range of bite problems that braces can correct. Some complex bite issues are thus better served by the traditional approach. But that gap is narrowing: Recent advances in clear aligner technology have considerably increased their treatability range.
With that said, clear aligners can be an ideal choice for adults who have a treatable bite problem and who want to avoid the appearance created by braces. And though they tend to be a little more expensive than braces, many busy adults find the benefits of clear aligners to be worth it.
The best way to find out if clear aligners could be a viable option for you is to visit us for an exam and consultation. Like film star Kathy Bates, you may find that this way of straightening your smile is right for you.
If you would like more information about tooth straightening, please contact us or schedule a consultation.
As we get older, we become more susceptible to chronic health conditions like diabetes, heart disease or arthritis. We can also begin to see more problems with our teeth and gums.
Whether it's ourselves or an older loved one, oral health deserves a heightened focus as we age on prevention and prompt treatment. Here's what you can do to protect you or a family member's teeth and gums during the aging process.
Make accommodations for oral hygiene. Keeping your mouth clean of disease-causing plaque is important at any age. But it may become harder for someone getting older: Manual dexterity can falter due to conditions like arthritis or Parkinson's Disease. Older adults with decreased physical ability may benefit from larger gripped toothbrushes or those modified with a bicycle handle. Electric power brushes are another option, as are water irrigators that can do as effective a job of flossing as threaded floss.
Watch out for “dry mouth.” Older adults often develop chronic dry mouth due to saliva-reducing medications they might be taking. It's not just an unpleasant feeling: Inadequate saliva deprives the mouth of acid neutralization. As a result, someone with chronic dry mouth has a higher risk for tooth decay. You can reduce dry mouth by talking with your doctor about prescriptions for you or a family member, drinking more water or using saliva boosting products.
Maintain regular dental visits. Regular trips to the dentist are especially important for older adults. Besides professional cleanings, dentists also check for problems that increase with aging, such as oral cancer. An older adult wearing dentures or other oral appliances also needs to have them checked periodically for any adverse changes to fit or wear.
Monitor self-care. As long as they're able, older adults should be encouraged to care daily for their own teeth. But they should also be monitored in these areas, especially if they begin to show signs of decreased mental or physical abilities. So, evaluate how they're doing with brushing and flossing, and look for signs of tooth decay or gum disease.
Aging brings its own set of challenges for maintaining optimum dental health. But taking proactive steps and acting quickly when problems arise will help meet those challenges as they come.
If you would like more information on dental care for older adults, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Aging & Dental Health.”
This website includes materials that are protected by copyright, or other proprietary rights. Transmission or reproduction of protected items beyond that allowed by fair use, as defined in the copyright laws, requires the written permission of the copyright owners.