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Dry Mouth Can Cause Cavities

Side effect of illnessess can be fixed with dental sealants, experts advise

SUNDAY, Oct. 28, 2001 (HealthDayNews) -- Dry mouth, an increasingly common condition for adults taking medications, undergoing chemotherapy or suffering from auto-immune diseases, can be more than just uncomfortable. It heightens the risk of cavities, say dentists.

And one way of reducing cavities can be taken from a chapter to prevent tooth decay in children -- using dental sealants to protect teeth.

"Sealants have been around for years and were geared to children as a way to prevent cavities by keeping germs and acids from attaching to the tops of back teeth," says Dr. Barbara A. Rich, a Cherry Hill, N.J., dentist. "It should be a common procedure in dental offices to prevent dental disease [in adults with dry mouth]."

Rich says that dry mouth, when the mouth glands don't produce enough saliva, is increasingly common among older adults who are taking drugs, as well as those who are undergoing chemotherapy, or who are suffering from diseases like Parkinson's.

According to the Academy of General Dentistry, studies show that up to 400 medications, prescriptions and over-the-counter drugs can contribute to symptoms associated with dry mouth. The most common troublemakers are anti-depressants, painkillers, tranquilizers, diuretics, and antihistamines. The result is that a lot of people can suffer from this disorder.

"It could be as much as a third of the population that suffers from dry mouth," Rich says.

Without enough saliva in your mouth to cleanse it, plaque adheres more readily to the teeth and gums and there is an increased incidence of cavities, Rich says.

The sealants, applied in liquid or gel form, adhere to the tops of the teeth and protect the grooves in the teeth from germs and acids that could collect there.

However, the procedure does not offer complete protection. "It prevents cavities on the tops of teeth, the biting surface, but not in between," Rich says.

Also, many older people no longer have the pits and grooves in the tops of the teeth.

"Some people get through life with no cavities, but many have had fillings and the grooves were smoothed out then," says Minnesota dentist Dr. Kimberly Harms. "Also, most of their decay is on root surfaces, near the gumline, and between the teeth, and the sealants only take care of the top of the teeth."

For those people, she emphasizes dental hygiene.

"The cavities can form very quickly [without enough saliva], and you need to keep the plaque away. So I recommend meticulous oral hygiene -- brushing at least twice a day with fluoridated toothpaste, and floss, floss, floss," says Harms, who is also a consumer advisor for the American Dental Association.

"But that being said, sealants are a wonderful thing for treatment of dry mouth if you have exposed grooves," she says.

What To Do

If you have started a new medication and find that your mouth is drier, you should visit your dentist, says Rich, because cavities can develop quickly without enough saliva.

Other suggestions she makes for reducing the effects of dry mouth: Avoid caffeine, alcohol and overly salty foods, which dry out the mouth; brush and floss regularly; and chew sugarless gum, which can triple the amount of saliva in your mouth.

For more information about dry mouth, you can visit The Academy of General Dentistry or the National Institutes of Health.

SOURCES: Interviews with Barbara A. Rich, D.D.S., spokeswoman, Academy of General Dentistry, dentist in private practice, Cherry Hill, N.J.; Kimberly Harms, D.D.S., consumer advisor, American Dental Association, and dentist in private practice, Farmington, Minn.
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