Dry Mouth: Why This Common Side Effect Matters

Ah, side effects. The list of ailments you need to weigh against your current ailment to decide if a medication is right for you.

So I’m sure that if you’ve ever seen “dry mouth” listed as a common side effect, you’ve probably kept reading and spent more thought on the more “injury or death” type side effects on the list. But dry mouth is actually an important thing to note and may actually require action on your part.

Why It Matters:

We’ve all felt dry mouth before, and it was probably only the mildest of inconveniences when you did. But remember: you have spit in your mouth for a reason! It’s not just there to breakdown food, or else why would it be present all the time?

Spit is extremely important for your dental health. And until you’ve had severe dental problems (hello, me) you probably don’t really appreciate how important your dental health is. It’s not even included in most health insurance! But trust me: you want to live a life with your teeth not hurting or falling out or trying to kill you. So what does spit do for your health and overall well-being? For one thing, it kills germs. Not enough to use in place of hand sanitizer or anything, but enough to prevent bad breath. While spit can kill some germs that could make you sick, a dry mouth is probably not going to put you at a higher risk of getting sick with something like a virus.

The risk is actually more to do with your teeth! Without spit to continually rinse teeth and kill germs, you put yourself more at-risk for cavities. Again, I realize that to most people, cavities are something super minor that barely matters, but cavities can cause intense pain and can result in infection, loss of teeth, and yes, even death.

In short, you have spit for a reason, and you want to make good choices for your oral health. No one likes bad breath or dead people.

When It Matters:

But DoILookSick, you say, I take very good care of my mouth, surely I could take a medication that causes dry mouth. The answer is of course you can! Doctors don’t prescribe medication without weighing the risk and reward. This medication will probably do more good for you than bad. In most cases, a side effect of dry mouth isn’t any reason to not take or stop taking a medication.

If you are concerned about your dental health, there are a few things you can do:

  • Drink lots of water! Dry mouth can make your crave sugary drinks like soda or juice. Try to limit your intake of sugary liquid when you have dry mouth because remember, you don’t have saliva to keep that sugar off your teeth!
  • Swish with water after eating or drinking anything other than water.
  • Brush your teeth three times a day! Yes, really!
  • Try a mouthwash specifically made for dry mouth. It will help kill germs and may actually help you to not have the dry mouth side effect any more.
  • When you do eat and drink things other than water, go ahead an eat/drink all at once. Try to avoid grazing snacks or nursing on drinks while you watch TV or work. Finish your drink or snack, rinse, and move on rather than continually exposing your teeth to sugars and acids for long periods of time.

That being said, there are circumstances where you should either not take a medication that causes dry mouth or seek medical help for dry mouth. If you are looking at a medication that is an every-day-for-the-foreseeable-future medication, you might consider asking your doctor about alternatives. This is especially true if you already have some dental problems, you regularly get cavities, or you have any problems with weak enamel or bone problems that make your teeth more vulnerable. If you’ve always gotten a clean bill of health from your dentist and never had tooth problems, you’re probably ok to take a medication that gives you dry mouth long-term, but do continue to practice good dental hygiene and keep an eye on your teeth.

If you do decide to take a medication that causes dry mouth long-term, even if you do have dental problems, step 1: don’t worry. If you need a medication, you need it. Don’t feel bad about taking it. Step 2: See your dentist regularly! Do the checkup and cleaning! I go twice a year because I have a lot of dental problems, but for a healthy mouth, once a year is fine. Even if you experience some dry mouth, there’s a chance it won’t affect your teeth negatively. Let your dentist know what medication you’re taking and ask about dry mouth. He or she will check for signs of dry mouth damage and let you know if you have any possible issues.

Recently I started taking adderall for adhd, and I felt a little embarrassed asking my dentist about it, but I’m really glad I did. He obviously didn’t make fun of me for having adhd (irrational fears are great) and he was very informative. He said that even with my bad luck from the dental gods, any dry mouth I was experiencing wasn’t enough to cause any damage. So that’s proof that even with a storied dental past, you can still take a medication that causes dry mouth and your teeth will be fine.

Also, it’s important to know that milder side-effects, like dry mouth, can go away with continued use. So if you are really worried about lasting damage, give the meds a few months to see if the dry mouth continues to be a regular side-effect. If so, then it’s time to try the stuff listed above, like special mouthwash and extra brushing.

The Bottom Line:

Dry mouth isn’t just a throwaway side-effect that you never need to worry about, but it usually isn’t a reason to stop taking a medication either. It’s important to give your mouth proper care, because it does affect your overall health. As long as you take care of your teeth, even chronic dry mouth won’t hurt you. If you have chronic dental problems, always discuss medications with your dentist.

Hope you’re AWAP (as well as possible)!

One thought on “Dry Mouth: Why This Common Side Effect Matters

  1. Good read. I wake in the night with my lips stuck to my gums and unable to speak. I use a gel to help at night. Didn’t know there’s a mouthwash and plan to look for it – thanks.

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