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Chronic dry mouth can bring cavities, gum disease, greater health threats

December 3, 2012 12:00:00 AM PST
We all get that dry feeling in the mouth once in a while. But for some, it could be more than just an inconvenience. It's believed 44 million Americans suffer from the problem.

Emergency room nurse Lauren Geeter is always on the move, but a side effect of her acid reflux medication made constant water breaks a part of her routine.

"I knew my mouth was dry, but I guess I always had dry mouth and never really thought of it as anything," said Geeter.

Her dry mouth resulted in a mouth full of cavities.

"If the bacterium is growing in their mouths, there could be a systemic threat to their whole body," said Dr. Stephen Hsu, Georgia Health Sciences University.

Hsu says ignoring it can lead to lots of trouble. "The complications can be severe," said Hsu.

Saliva neutralizes acid and protects against bacterial growth. Dry mouth results in a lack of saliva and can lead to tooth decay and gum disease.

If you're one of the millions with dry mouth, cutting out things high in sugar and acid, like soda, sports drinks and candy is a good idea. Hsu says green tea extract is also a great way to fight the problem.

"We found a lot of protective properties from the green tea polyphenols," said Hsu.

Hsu has even developed a special chewing gum to stimulate saliva flow.

Eating fibrous foods can help make up for a lack of mouth-cleaning saliva. Harvard experts say crunchy fruits and vegetables like apples and carrots are mild abrasives that can remove bacteria and plaque from teeth.

People with the problem should also use alcohol-free mouthwashes and check the labels of their toothpaste. If it contains the dry mouth irritant sodium lauryl sulfate, find a new brand.

Now Lauren Geeter uses Doctor Hsu's gum to help take care of her dry mouth so she can focus on taking care of others.


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