Dry mouth: A common side effect of diabetes {Guest Post}

I’m sitting here thinking about my dentist appointment that I need to reschedule and how perfect is it that I have a guest blog post for you on a dental topic… From Erin at the Smile Brilliant Blog. According to the American Diabetes Association, dry mouth is one of oral issue that people with diabetes experience.

Dry mouth: your teeth’s super enemy (and a common side effect of diabetes)

Via Judy Baxter

As a hygienist, it’s my job to recognize the signs and symptoms of diabetes that manifest in the mouth. The fact is, patients with diabetes are much more susceptible to a whole list of negative dental and oral effects. Of course, I try my best to get the importance of good oral care across — even more so if diabetes plays a part — but ultimately, it’s up to the patient if he or she is going to take my instructions seriously. My heart certainly smiles a little when they do, though!

What do I typically see in patients with diabetes?
I have to say that one of the most common side effects that I notice is dry mouth. This condition usually doesn’t sound so bad to patients, but in reality, it can cause serious damage to teeth. Understanding what dry mouth is, why it’s the archenemy of those pearly whites, and how to beat it, are important things to know if you want to avoid a lot of dental and oral problems. Let’s take a look!

What is dry mouth exactly?
Frequently, I start to clean a patient’s teeth and immediately notice a lack of saliva, which concerns me. Yes, saliva is just “spit,” but trust me, a healthy amount of “spit” flow is essential in order to keep your mouth cleansed and prevent tooth decay. Basically, when not enough saliva is being produced in the mouth, that’s what’s called dry mouth. So, the condition is exactly what its name implies. But you might be surprised to find out that the consequences of this problem can actually be pretty bad.

What’s so awful about dry mouth?
A lack of saliva may not seem like the worst thing ever, but it is nowhere near harmless. In fact, harm is definitely being done to your teeth and oral tissues if saliva isn’t around to protect them.  You see, saliva has an important role. It actually cleans and neutralizes the acids of bacteria found in your mouth. It also acts like a flowing current, rinsing your mouth of food debris that add bacteria, while helping your teeth absorb healthy proteins, vitamins and minerals.

But, if there isn’t enough saliva, the bacteria starts to break down the teeth causing tooth decay. Tooth decay can lead to all sorts of things you’ll want to avoid — cavities, toothaches, infections and loss of teeth. Nobody wants that!

How to know if you have dry mouth
Not sure if you’re experiencing dry mouth? That’s normal. A lot of my patients say “no” when I ask them if they have dry mouth, when I can clearly see that they do. It might be that they’re just used to the feeling, or don’t know what things signal that they have the condition. In any case, here are some questions to help you figure out if you have dry mouth:

  • Does your mouth feel very dry often?
  • Does it seem that you have less saliva than in the past?
  • Do you have difficulty swallowing?
  • Is it more of a challenge to eat dry foods like crackers or toast?
  • Do you have diabetes, but sometimes don’t control your blood sugar?
  • Do you have any sores on your lips or in your mouth?

If you answer “yes” to some of these questions it’s likely that you have dry mouth. But what about how to treat it? That’s next!

How to treat dry mouth
The good thing about dry mouth is that there are various ways to either simulate or stimulate the production of saliva and doing so will help keep away the negative effects of the condition. Hooray! Here are a few things that help:

  • Limiting caffeine intake
  • Limiting the use of mouthwash containing alcohol (unless instructed otherwise)
  • Not smoking
  • Sipping water regularly
  • Breathing through your nose
  • Using a humidifier
  • Using an over the counter self-applied fluoride
  • Using saliva replacement products
  • Rinsing your mouth with water after meals
  • Controlling your blood sugar
  • Visiting the dentist twice a year

What to keep in mind
Taking steps to stand up to the bad guy (dry mouth of course!) is the right thing to do if you want to avoid oral complications. So if you’re prone to dry mouth because of diabetes, learn to recognize the signs that your mouth isn’t producing enough saliva, and take action! You’ll thank yourself the next time you go to the dentist and your teeth and gums are all happy and healthy. And, if your hygienist is anything like me, he or she will be so proud!

About Erin
Erin Stelbrink is a Registered Dental Hygienist with 5+ years of experience as a licensed hygienist and oral health care professional. She holds a passion for researching the latest technologies and methods for providing valuable health care service and clinical treatment. Aside from clinical work, Erin serves as a product researcher and journalist for Smile Brilliant, a company providing professional teeth whitening from home and cavity prevention products.

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