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A pasty, sandpaper feeling in the mouth, bad breath and difficulty swallowing are all symptoms of a chronic dry mouth — symptoms that JoAnn Gurenlian, a dental hygienist and director of education and research with the American Dental Hygienists Association, experienced herself when undergoing cancer treatment several years ago.
“It was so bad at one point my tongue stuck to the roof of my mouth,” Gurenlian said of this common issue, which, according to her, can be caused by a number of things including medications, autoimmune disorders and underlying conditions like diabetes.
Dr. Corey Brick, a New York City-based dental surgeon, told HuffPost that if it is left unadressed, a chronically dry mouth, also known as xerostomia, can be the catalyst for a number of severe oral health issues, namely rampant tooth decay or aggressive gum disease.
“Our saliva is protective, containing antibodies that help to fight and neutralize the bacteria that cause either cavities or gum disease. With reduced salivary flow, our bodies can’t fight off those bacteria as well and they can accumulate rapidly in the form of plaque,” Brick said. Gurenlian added that recurrent mouth and fungal infections can also become a risk.
The vital function that a healthy supply of saliva plays also goes beyond plaque control. It’s necessary to consume and digest foods properly, too.
“With reduced salivary flow, people can have difficulty eating and digesting their foods, leading to heartburn, reflux and poor nourishment,” Brick cautioned.
Guerlian noted the toll that dry mouth can also have on mental health, saying that it can impact a person’s ability to enjoy their food or be social.
“If you are taking an antihistamine because you have a sinus problem or you have hay fever and season allergies, this might be something that’s just a very temporary situation,” she said. “But, if you’re noticing that your symptoms are building up and not going away, even after you’ve stopped taking medication, it might be time to go to your doctor or your dental professional and say, ‘What can I do about this?’”
Even years later, Gurenlian remembers the discomfort that her dry mouth played in her everyday life, but she insists that you don’t have to suffer in silence. Aside from creating a personalized treatment plan with your dental professional, she said that hope can also be found in over-the-counter products, some of which we have rounded up in the list below with the help of our dental experts.