The importance of saliva to oral and general health is often overlooked by people
outside of dentistry. Not only does saliva aid in digestion but it protects the hard and soft tissues of the mouth (teeth, gums, tongue, etc.). Dry mouth or xerostomia is the condition of too little or no saliva production.
Xerostomia is not a natural result of aging, although many of the medications taken by older adults can cause dry mouth. In fact, many medications, from over the counter anti-histamines to prescription medications, have a documented side effect of dry mouth. There are also several medical conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis, hypothyroidism (slow thyroid) and depression that can affect salivary flow.
Saliva helps to keep the proper pH in the mouth. The enamel of a tooth, the hardest and most highly mineralized substance in the human body, will demineralize at a pH of 5.5. The pH of plaque, a biofilm that develops naturally on teeth, drops below 5.5 within 3 minutes of exposure to sugar, flour or other “fermentable carbohydrates”. Not only does saliva return the pH of plaque to a level that won’t lead to demineralization of the enamel (increased risk of dental
cavities), it can even help to remineralize areas that have been demineralized.
So, what can one do to treat dry mouth? There are several ways to increase saliva production. Chewing sugar-free gum, preferably with xylitol, can reduce the risk of cavities greatly. Other drug-free options include acupuncture, hypnosis and even drinking chamomile tea.
If you are concerned that you may suffer from dry mouth, it is best to speak with your dentist. The dentist may prescribe a preparation or may suggest one of the above listed treatments, depending on the severity of the condition. Those with
dry mouth may still enjoy great oral health and quality of life with just a few