Okay so most of us have had a dry mouth at least once in our lifetime, but what is a dry mouth really, and why does it give us bad breath?
Basically a dry mouth is a result of less saliva being produced. At times a dry mouth could make talking extremely difficult, and make eating and swallowing very uncomfortable, and this could lead to malnutrition. Another medical term used for dry mouth is Xerostomia.
Studies have shown that woman are more prone to dry mouth than men are. Also dry mouth is very common in elderly people as well as in people who use prescribed and unprescribed medications often.
Now you may be asking what makes saliva so important. We often take our saliva for granted even though it plays a major role in maintaining a healthy mouth. Besides lubricating our mouths, saliva helps to protect the oral tissues in the mouth against friction, ulcers and mouth sores. Another very important role saliva plays is protecting our mouth against bad breath bacteria and saliva also neutralizes acids present in our mouths. Saliva helps to digest the foods we eat and it helps teeth in remineralization (remineralization is the effective treatment that stops or even reverses early tooth decay. It is a process where minerals are returned to the molecular structure of the teeth themselves).
There are a few things that cause dry mouth.
Medications. There are many medications that cause dry mouth. Even over the counter medications have the side effect of dry mouth. Chronic medications for the treatment of depression, anxiety and nerve pain (neuropathy) are among the more likely types to cause dry mouth problems. Other medications that also cause dry mouth are some antihistamines, decongestants, muscle relaxants and pain medications.
Aging. Ageing itself does not cause dry mouth. It is the medications that the elderly might have to take that could cause dry mouth and even some health conditions that could cause them to get dry mouth.
Cancer therapy. The drugs used for chemotherapy change the nature of the saliva and reduces the amount of saliva produced. This condition is not permanent and normal salivary flow will return to normal once the treatment has been completed. Your salivary glands could get damaged if you get radiation treatments to your head and neck, and this could cause a marked decrease in saliva production. Depending on the dose of the radiation treatment and the area of the treatment, this can be a temporary or permanent condition.
Nerve damage. Nerve damage to your head or neck area through an injury or surgery could result in dry mouth.
Other health conditions. Certain health conditions also contribute to dry mouth. One such condition is the autoimmune disease HIV/AIDS. Other diseases such as a stroke and Alzheimer’s might cause a sense of dry mouth, even though the saliva glands are functioning normally. Even something like snoring, or breathing with your mouth open can cause dry mouth.
Tobacco use. Smoking any cigarettes or chewing tobacco also increases dry mouth symptoms.
Methamphetamine use. The use of methamphetamine can cause severe dry mouth and damage to teeth. This condition is also known as “meth mouth.”
So why does dry mouth cause bad breath?
We now know that saliva has a very important role to play in the health of our mouths. If you do not have a sufficient amount of saliva in your mouth, it cannot flush away the anaerobic bacteria that cause bad breath. Your mouth then becomes a breeding ground for these anaerobic bacteria.
Anaerobic bacteria feed on the proteins in the mouth. Proteins can be anything from food particles, mucous and blood. Now the by-product of the anaerobic bacteria’s consumption of all these proteins is a sulphur compound which we experience as bad breath or halitosis.
A dry mouth is the perfect breeding ground for the anaerobic bacteria to accumulate and multiply, leaving your breath smelling less than fresh and making your life almost unbearable. The disadvantages of having halitosis are endless and not least of these is a low self esteem.