Video caption: Dr. Katz summarizes seven of the potentially dangerous side effects of untreated dry mouth in a short video.
Dry mouth (xerostomia) is caused by the salivary glands not producing an adequate amount of saliva. Reduced saliva production is often a side effect of aging, several health conditions, medications, and lifestyle issues (e.g. excessive tobacco or alcohol use). Considerably less saliva in the mouth can leave a person feeling parched and uncomfortable, but dry mouth can also cause more serious repercussions.
Bad breath: Saliva washes away the germs in the mouth, so less saliva production can lead to a proliferation of bacteria and chronic or severe bad breath (halitosis). Dry mouth at night is frequently associated with waking up with bad breath in the morning, although this can persist throughout the day.
Tooth decay: Saliva minimizes harmful bacteria that cause cavities and other oral infections, therefore a decrease in saliva increases the risk of tooth decay. According to the Oral Cancer Foundation, about 30 percent of all tooth decay in older adults is caused by dry mouth.
Gum disease: Lack of saliva causes bacterial plaque to build up on the surface of teeth and gums, resulted in infected gum tissues (gingivitis). Gingivitis is characterized by swollen, tender gums that may be bright red or purple, as well as chronic bad breath.
Tooth loss: Gum disease can progress to a far more serious gum disease called periodontitis or periodontal disease. This inflammatory disease affects the gum tissues surrounding the teeth and can lead to tooth loss. It also causes rampant bad breath and can lead to toothaches and deep abiding gum pain.
Speech problems: Advanced dry mouth can result in the tongue not gliding properly over the teeth, causing difficulties speaking.
Swallowing issues: Many older people already have issues swallowing their food. Dry mouth makes it more challenging because the amount of food being chewed at one time (known as the bolus of food) isn’t moist enough to swallow.
Increased depression: Older people already have a greater risk of depression due to aging and illness. The combination of symptoms described above can compound this problem and cause worsening low-grade depression.