Do you feel your breath is not-so-fresh sometimes? For many of us, it occurs when our mouths are dry. However, having a dry mouth can cause problems far worse than bad breath.

In every mouth, there is a certain amount of bacteria. That’s normal. When we brush our teeth thoroughly twice a day, we help to keep bacterial levels under control so they don’t over-accumulate and cause problems.

But, when oral bacteria reproduce beyond what is manageable, a clear warning sign is the unpleasant odor of bad breath.

Bad breath can occur from certain foods (like garlicky shrimp) or those anchovies you love as a pizza topping. Occasional bad breath is not the issue here. It is persistent bad breath that is a warning sign there is a deeper problem.

A dry mouth allows oral bacteria to hang out in the mouth, where they reproduce. As they amass, this can lead to inflamed gums and, eventually, gum disease. Gum disease symptoms include frequent bad breath and tender gums that bleed when brushing. It is also the nation’s leading cause of adult tooth loss.

Xerostomia, commonly known as ‘dry mouth,’ is a frequent state of oral dryness. Saliva, the mouth’s natural rinsing agent, helps to continually move oral bacteria out of the mouth. This keeps bacteria levels under control.

When saliva flow is depleted, however, bacteria remain in the mouth longer. The longer they remain in the mouth, the faster they multiply. As oral bacteria reproduce and accumulate, they initially form a sticky film known as plaque.

When plaque is not thoroughly removed each day through brushing and flossing, plaque can harden into a mass of bacteria, called tartar (or calculus). This is a cement-hard form of bacteria that can no longer be brushed away. For sustenance, this colony of bacteria eats into tooth enamel and attacks gum tissues.

Occasional dry mouth can occur from consuming alcoholic beverages, coffee and as a side effect of some medications. Sugary drinks that contain caffeine (such as tea and colas), give the mouth a one-two punch of oral bacteria growth. Sugar provides an ideal food for bacteria reproduction. When sugar is combined with the drying effects of caffeine, oral bacteria have a heyday!

Some medications, including antihistamines and some prescriptions for depression and incontinence, can contribute to dry mouth. Certain medical conditions, such as acid reflux, sinus infections, and diabetes can also cause dry mouth. Having a sinus infection or mouth breathing (including snoring) cause oral dryness as well. And, smoking is a major cause of dryness in the mouth.

What is the best way to deal with a dry mouth?

We begin by performing a thorough oral examination on patients who have a persistent dry mouth to determine its source. Once the reason has been found, we recommend measures that can often resolve the problem quickly and simply. These include:

– Brush at least two minutes, twice daily. Use a tongue scraper or brush your tongue with your toothbrush after brushing teeth.
 – Floss daily. If this is difficult or awkward, consider purchasing an electronic flosser.
 – Drink lots of water throughout the day. (Colas and sports drinks do not count!) If you take medications that have drying side effects, use an oral rinse that replenishes saliva (available over-the-counter).

Having fresh, confident breath begins with a clean, healthy mouth. If you have symptoms of gum disease or have oral dryness on a regular basis, call 910-254-4555 to schedule an examination.


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