Most of us don’t give it a second thought, but those affected by dry mouth know that saliva is often an underestimated aspect of good oral health. Dry mouth, also known as xerostomia, can be extremely uncomfortable and can lead to tons of oral health issues. Lack of saliva can lead to problems like tooth decay, bad breath, and gum disease. There’s a variety of options like periodontal treatment and restorative dentistry services to combat the oral problems that arise from dry mouth. However, treating the root cause of these problems can be more difficult. For the most part, doctors will prescribe saliva boosting medications if a patient’s dry mouth is severe enough. Recently, researchers have been looking into the generation of new salivary glands in an effort to treat dry mouth. Drs. Elam, Vaughan, & Fleming explain how researchers plan to use silk fibers and stem cells to engineer salivary glands for dry mouth.
Basics of Dry Mouth
So, what is dry mouth and what causes this problem in the first place? Dry mouth can be defined as the chronic unusual dryness of the mouth. This problem can most often be traced to the decreased production of saliva by salivary glands. The impact dry mouth has on your health can vary, depending on the severity of dryness. Individuals suffering from dry mouth can feel slightly irritated if their dry mouth is mild or they can feel extreme discomfort if their dry mouth is severe. Individuals with a severe dry mouth can even have their oral health and enjoyment of food affected as well. The causes of dry mouth include:
- Medications that cause dry mouth as a side effect
- Chemotherapy drugs
- Nerve damage to the head or neck area
- Mouth breathing
- Autoimmune diseases
- Use of tobacco products
- Use of methamphetamine
Dry Mouth and Oral Health
Dry mouth is a much bigger problem than most people realize; The implications that dry mouth has on oral health can often be pretty serious. Here are some of the problems dry mouth can cause for your health:
- Increased risk of gum disease
- Tooth decay
- Mouth infections
- Dry or cracked lips
- Mouth sores
How does saliva stop these problems from occurring? Well, most obviously, saliva keeps your mouth moist which will prevent problems like cracked lips and split skin on the corners of your mouth from happening. Salivas role for protecting your teeth and gums may be a little less obvious.
Saliva is important for your oral health because it helps neutralize acids in your mouth and prevents tooth decay. It also contains proteins and minerals that benefit your tooth enamel. Other benefits include saliva fighting off bacteria, preventing bad breath, and washing away food debris from teeth.
New Studies to Solve Dry Mouth
Although there are medications that help boost saliva production, there are no treatments to renew salivary glands. Recently, researchers from the University of Texas at San Antonio have attempted to create this treatment. The study created a matrix of salivary gland stem cells using silk fibers to create a 3D scaffold for stem cells. A professor in comprehensive dentistry stated, “the cells had many of the same characteristics as salivary gland cells that grow in the mouth.”
The initial study used stem cells from rat salivary glands and a framework made from purified silk fibers to encourage growth. These silk fibers are ideal because it is flexible, porous, and biodegradable. Researchers plan to keep using rat salivary glands before they use stem cells from human bone marrow or umbilical cord blood. After continuing to fine-tune the engineering of salivary glands, researchers hope to begin repairing damaged salivary glands with human stem cells within the next 10 years.
Other Ways To Help Dry Mouth
Although these treatments are still a decade away from becoming a reality, there are steps you can take today to help combat dry mouth. These steps won’t actually repair salivary glands, but they can help promote the production of saliva. Possible solutions for dry mouth vary, depending on the exact cause of your dry mouth. Here are some potentially helpful tips for dealing with dry mouth:
- Oral rinse to increase moisture in mouth
- Medications to boost saliva production
- Drinking more water
- Breath through your nose and not your mouth
- Chew sugar-free gum
- Use an artificial saliva substitute
Contact Dentistry of Nashville Today!
As you can tell, saliva is an incredibly important aspect of oral health. Although salivary gland treatment is far off in the future, there are still steps you can take today to control your dry mouth. If you happen to be dealing with oral health problems due to dry mouth or any other issue, contact our office. We offer a range of dental services that will get your smiling again!