Dry mouth or xerostomia is a condition that is characterized by a decrease in the mouths saliva. Any one who lectures or sleeps with their mouth open has experienced a temporary version of this condition. Also stress can cause temporary dry mouth for some people dry mouth is a more long lasting condition. There are some auto immune conditions (sjorgens syndrome for one) that can cause dry mouth and certainly patients who have been treated with oral radiation experience it. Among the elderly it is not uncommon and it is also a common mentioned side effect of many medicines.
Xerostomia can have some serious side effects including increasing the likely hood of decay , overgrowth of bacteria in the mouth, some altering of taste sensation and bad breath.
If you are experiencing these symptoms and are taking medication you should speak with you physician about it to see if another substitute medicine without the dry mouth side effect might work for you. I have found that having patients chew sugarless gum helps to stimulate salivary flow. Also drinking water or sipping tea seems to be helpful. For patients with chronic dry mouth often it is recommended that home fluoride treatments be used on a regular nightly schedule to decrease the risk of caries.
Also when caring for dental patients with dry mouth I have found it helpful to place them on three month recall schedules since they often have an accelerated rate of decay. Not only do they have a greater likely hood of developing decay, in my experience their decay is ‘more aggresive’ and the cavities that they have seem to destroy tooth structure at a faster rate. Seeing a patient with dry mouth every three month allows a dentist to inspect their teeth thoughly for new carious lesions. I utilize a bright fiber optic light to help look intraproximally(in between the teeth) for hidden decay. If these patients are inspected often the cavities tend to be filled when they are small.
Patients experiencing dry mouth often develop cavities along the gum line and normal resin base composite fillings don’t work optimally for them. Composite fillings in a dry mouth seem more likely to experience recurrent decay, so I find it best to use glass ionomer based filling materials that release high levels of fluoride over time. These restorations seem to work reasonably well along the gum line and do not experience a high rate of recurrent decay.