Is dry mouth related to toothaches? Yes and no. Dry mouth does not directly cause toothaches, but it does contribute to what will.
What Causes Dry Mouth
Dry mouth, or xerostemia, simply means there is not enough saliva in your mouth. You’ll know you have dry mouth if your mouth feels sticky and you lack spit.
The most likely reason why your mouth is dry is because you’re dehydrated. Dehydration can occur any time of the year, but you might notice it more during the winter, even if you don’t spend much time outdoors. In fact, it’s because you don’t spend much time outdoors that experience it during the fall and winter months. As the temperature cools and we crank up the air conditioning, the relative humidity (the amount of moisture the air holds compared to how much it can hold) indoors decreases. This results in the evaporation rate increasing. Our bodies, just like everything else, therefore lose more water. We dry out. This is also why people are prone to dry skin and chapped lips during winter.
Another common cause for dry mouth is not linked to seasonal changes. The Academy of General Dentistry (AGD) says there are more than 400 medications that cause dry mouth. Among the medications that cause dry mouth are antihistamines, decongestants, diuretics, pain medications (opioids), antidepressants, cancer treatments, and drugs that treat Parkinson’s disease.
Medical conditions, too, may cause dry mouth. High blood pressure, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and HIV/AIDS are all associated with dry mouth. Even colds and sinus infections indirectly cause dry mouth. If you have a cold or sinus infection, you might not be able to breathe through your nasal cavity, and breathing through our mouth constantly will dry it and your throat out.
Stress is another condition — temporary or otherwise — that can lead to dry mouth. As your body releases stress hormones, saliva glands sometimes respond by reducing the amount of spit they produce, resulting in dry mouth. While stress-induced dry mouth may simply be an annoyance if you have to speak in public or encounter another short-term stressor, it can be problematic if you live with stress on a daily basis.
Illegal methamphetamine use can also lead to a specific dry mouth disorder called “meth mouth.” Teeth grinding and clenching, which the drug causes and which the heat from inhaled vapor triggers, worsens the damage to teeth and gums from this condition. Meth mouth results in rapid destruction of teeth and a lifetime of dental issues.
Effects of Dry Mouth and Toothaches
Dry mouth is not cause for concern if it occurs short-term. It is only a problem if the condition continues, as it can accelerate tooth decay.
Normally, your mouth is moistened with saliva, which helps neutralize acids wash food particles off your teeth. When you experience chronic dry mouth, however, your mouth has no such help. As a result, bacteria builds up more quickly around your teeth. This, in effect, makes you prone to bad breath, tooth decay, and gum disease. It is the tooth decay and gum disease which will directly disturb the nerves in your teeth, causing toothaches.
Saliva also helps to repair and remineralize tooth enamel. Normal activities such as eating and drinking wear your teeth over time. Fortunately, your body can repair this damage, and saliva plays an important role in this process. When saliva isn’t available, however, enamel isn’t repaired, and it will continue to thin until the dentin – the inner part of your teeth – is exposed.
Saliva is also important for eating, as it helps break down foods. When your mouth lacks saliva, eating becomes more difficult, and more food sticks to your teeth. As a result, food is more likely to get stuck in your gums, which can cause the gums to swell, which can also trigger a toothache.
Fixing Dry Mouth
To address dry mouth, start by drinking more water throughout the day. Addressing dehydration is the easiest way to treat this condition. Drinking tap water also helps your teeth because the fluoride in it will aid in remineralizing the enamel (making it stronger).
If dehydration isn’t the culprit behind your dry mouth, you’ll have to work on stimulating your saliva glands. Try chewing sugarless gum or sucking on sugarless hard candies through the day. You might also want to avoid things known to decrease saliva production. These include caffeine, alcohol (in beverages and mouth wash, salt, and cigarettes.
If you experience chronic dry mouth and the stated methods don’t work, you might need to take an artificial saliva product. Acupuncture is another method, according to the AGD, that can increase saliva flow.
During the night, consider using a single-room humidifier to help remoisten your oral cavity.
Besides addressing the lack of saliva, you will want to take special care of your teeth. Make sure you’re diligent about brushing twice a day and flossing once a day. Use a toothbrush with soft or extra soft bristles. If the toothbrushes still hurt, try soaking them in warm water. Also make sure you’re using toothpaste with fluoride in it, as the fluoride will strengthen your teeth.
If you have a toothache or experience chronic dry mouth and are concerned about your oral health, schedule an appointment with White River Dental, open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday in Columbus, Indiana. Our experienced dentists can assist you in addressing your oral health concerns and set you on a healthy path.