Complications Caused by Dry Mouth

If you struggle with xerostomia (dry mouth), there’s more to worry about apart from the annoying urge to constantly sip on water. Chronic dry mouth can lead to numerous dental complications. Don’t let the pesky dry feeling go overlooked. Even if you’re regularly brushing and flossing your teeth, the lack of saliva flow can wreak havoc on your teeth.

Most Common Problems Caused by Dry Mouth


Bad Breath (Halitosis) — Morning breath isn’t a made-up condition. When we sleep, our saliva glands naturally shut down and slow the flow while we’re sleeping. When we wake up the next morning (and especially if we snore or are a mouth breather) there’s a chance that residual bacteria are giving off a less-than-pleasant odor.

But what about bad breath that lasts all day long? Clinical halitosis has a variety of underlying causes, but xerostomia is one of them. Yes, it’s normal to have low saliva flow while you sleep, but it isn’t normal for dry mouth to last all day long. If it does, you’ll be at a much higher risk of having bad breath to go along with it. Our Raleigh dentists understand that bad breath is an embarrassing condition to treat and discuss, but we’re committed to helping you do so in a discreet and effective manner.


Tooth Decay — The most dangerous thing that can happen to your mouth if you have xerostomia is an extremely high risk of tooth decay. Saliva is responsible for naturally washing and lubricating your teeth throughout the day. Without it, it’s impossible to rinse away excess food debris. Every particle, sugar, and liquid that comes into contact with your teeth pose a serious hazard for your enamel.

People with dry mouth naturally have a higher number of cavities than people without xerostomia. That’s why oral hygiene, fluoride use, and saliva substitutes are so important. With routine dental exams, we can intercept early signs of demineralization while it’s still reversible (and treat cavities while they’re smaller and less invasive.)


Recurring Cavities Around Dental Fillings or Crowns — If you’ve invested in dental work like fillings, crowns, or bridges, you need to know that they’re not invincible to dry mouth either. Although porcelain and ceramic don’t decay, the tooth immediately adjacent to it still can. And if you have a dry mouth, you run the risks of a new cavity developing right where the margin of the filling/crown meets your tooth. When that happens, the entire restoration can fail.


Oral Thrush / Yeast Infections — Your mouth is a fine balance of natural bacteria (flora). But a lack of saliva can cause certain types of oral flora to develop an overgrowth. Even if it’s a “good” bacterium, having too much of it can actually be a bad thing.

Oral “thrush” is just one example. This yeast infection can develop inside of the mouth, at the corners of the lips, and underneath removable prosthetics such as dentures and partials. Typically, the tissues will appear red and extremely sensitive. On the lips, you’ll likely see white crusting or cracks at the corners of your mouth.

Thrush typically affects infants, the elderly, and immunocompromised individuals. But if you’re someone who is otherwise healthy — and only struggles with dry mouth — you’ll be at a higher risk of developing an oral yeast infection. People with xerostomia should go out of their way to maintain an exemplary home oral hygiene routine. Supplementing with probiotics or regular yogurt intake can help reduce the chances of developing oral thrush if you have dry mouth. Just be warned: many yogurt brands have tons of added sugars.


Gingivitis and Gum Disease — The lack of saliva flow inside of your mouth will contribute to excessive plaque buildup, which in turn can irritate your gingival (gum) tissues. Even a small amount of plaque accumulating along the gums on a frequent basis is enough to trigger an inflammatory response. Gradually you’ll start to notice symptoms of swollen gums, bleeding when you brush and floss, tenderness, and chronic gingivitis.

Fortunately, gingivitis is reversible. But if it goes untreated it will ultimately evolve into a more aggressive condition known as periodontal disease. Periodontal infections involve deeper tissues and bone, causing structural deterioration around the affected teeth. Over time, the gums start to recede and expose the underlying tooth root. As the tissues detach, the bone underneath them also shrinks away. In turn, the tooth loses support and becomes mobile or even falls out entirely.


Burning Mouth Syndrome — Does it ever feel like your mouth is on fire? Burning mouth syndrome is a condition that can make it too painful to eat or swallow. Although dry mouth may not be the specific cause of burning mouth per se, it can worsen the symptoms and make your condition even more painful than normal.


Tooth Sensitivity — As dry mouth contributes to gum disease, the protective tissues that safeguard our teeth start to pull back and reveal the tooth anatomy underneath. What you’ll see is a darker colored tooth surface than the white “crown” that usually protrudes above the gums. That’s because the enamel tapers off at the neck of your tooth and doesn’t cover the root. Instead, we see the yellowish hue of dentin, the layer underneath the enamel.

Since dentin is less dense and more porous than enamel, it can be extremely hypersensitive to external stimuli. As gums begin to recede with chronic dry mouth, the exposed tooth roots may send jolts of pain each time you eat or drink. Even breathing in through your mouth on a cold day could catch you off guard. Bottom line: that part of your tooth isn’t supposed to be exposed, so when it is, you’re going to feel it.



What’s Causing My Dry Mouth?

There are a number of different factors that can contribute to xerostomia. For instance, some types of medications are known for listing dry mouth as one of the most common side-effects. In other situations, the lack of saliva could be attributed to underlying medical conditions, such as diabetes or Sjogren’s syndrome. People who are currently undergoing or recently completed cancer therapies such as radiation treatment may also see a significant reduction in saliva production. Even too much caffeine intake can lower the amount of saliva that your body makes during the day.

During your exam with our Raleigh dentist, we’ll complete a thorough medical and health history screening to pinpoint any specific risk factors that are responsible for causing xerostomia. Be sure to bring an updated list of all medications (both prescription and over the counter) as well as supplements that you’re taking, that way we can rule out any specific risk factors and get to the bottom of treating your dry mouth symptoms.

If You’re Prone to Dry Mouth


What can be done to help treat dry mouth? Here are some excellent tips to keep in mind to lessen the damage caused by xerostomia:

  • Keep a refillable water bottle with you and sip on tap water frequently throughout the day. Tap water contains regulated fluoride levels; bottled water brands are often slightly acidic or may not contain fluoride.
  • Supplement with an over-the-counter fluoride rinse at least once per day. If your xerostomia is severe, our Raleigh dentist may need to prescribe a more concentrated fluoride to use at night before you go to sleep.
  • Use products formulated for dry mouth symptoms, such as saliva substitute drops, moisturizing toothpaste, and lubricating dry mouth mouthwash. Although these products usually contain ingredients that can make your mouth feel a bit “slimy”, they’ll offer added lubrication so that you can eat and speak comfortably throughout the day.
  • Do not use gums or breath mints that contain sugar or typical sugar substitutes (which feed dental plaque.) Instead, opt for those made specifically for dry mouth or those that contain Xylitol. Xylitol is a specific type of artificial sweetener that’s proven to prevent plaque accumulation inside of your mouth. By sucking or chewing on mints or gums that contain xylitol, you can naturally stimulate saliva production without putting your teeth at risk.
  • Plan to see our Raleigh dentist for a checkup at least twice per year, if not more frequently. Diagnostic X-rays can help us pinpoint early decay in areas that aren’t visible during your clinical exam.

Don’t Skip Your Dental Checkup

Visiting Raleigh Dental Arts every six months for your checkup and cleaning will allow us to actively intercept the side-effects of dry mouth to help you minimize any damage. If small areas of demineralization or gingivitis are starting to develop, we can help you create a plan to reverse them while it’s still possible. After your cleaning, we can apply a professional-strength fluoride gel or varnish to strengthen your enamel and protect your smile.

Don’t let dry mouth symptoms go overlooked. Even if they seem like they’re not that big of a deal, xerostomia can take a huge toll on your oral health. Schedule an appointment at Raleigh Dental Arts today to find out how we can help.

Tarun Agarwal

Dr. Tarun Agarwal, DDS is considered one of the top dentists in the country. He is a recognized speaker, author, and dental leader. He has been featured on CBS, NBC, ABC, FOX, and News 14 Carolina. Dr. Agarwal has been awarded '40 under 40' Business Leaders by the Triangle Business Journal. He is regularly invited to teach other dentists around the world and recently built a training center within the practice dedicated to sharing his expertise. Most importantly he is a loving husband and dedicated father of three wonderful children. His biggest accolade was being voted 'Best Dad in the World' by 2 of his 3 kids.