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Cannabis & Oral Health

Dry Mouth: Causes, Consequences & Remedies

Dry Mouth

Cottonmouth.... the single most famous side effect of cannabis. Medically known as xerostomia, dry mouth can lead to a range of oral health problems. But, we aren’t doomed to this fate! A little knowledge about what causes dry-mouth and therefore how to prevent it can go a long way. If you’ve already got dry mouth while reading this, it’s not too late!

Why Saliva is Important

Saliva plays a pivotal role in maintaining oral health. Beyond its basic function of moistening the mouth, saliva has several essential functions:

  1. Digestion: Saliva contains enzymes that initiate the process of breaking down food, aiding in digestion. This is why starchy foods like bread or crackers begin to sweeten if held in the mouth. The enzymes in saliva start breaking those starches into sugar, a necessary process for proper digestion.

  2. Remineralization: It helps re-mineralize tooth enamel, making teeth more resistant to decay. Our teeth require minerals to stay strong and avoid breaking and cracking. Bacteria can get into these cracks and cause problems.

  3. Dilution of Acid: Saliva helps counteract the acid produced by bacteria, preventing enamel erosion. Enamel erosion by acid is part of what causes cavities in the mouth.

  4. Rinsing: It washes away residual food particles, reducing the risk of bacterial growth. Bacteria eat the food left in our mouth, leftover food will encourage bacteria to grow, leading to cavities and bad breath.

Most Common Causes of Dry Mouth

Dry mouth can stem from various factors, including lifestyle habits and medical conditions. Some of the most common causes include:

  1. Dehydration: Inadequate fluid intake can lead to reduced saliva production. Drink plenty of water throughout the day, not just when you notice dry mouth.

  2. Mouth Breathing: Breathing predominantly through the mouth instead of the nose can lead to decreased saliva production as well as dry out the saliva as it is produced. Try to breathe from your nose as often as possible. If you predominately breathe from the mouth, it may take a conscious effort, but it is possible to change the habit. Mouth breathing leads to many other problems as well such as sleep apnea and increased respiratory infections, but that’s for another article.

  3. Cannabis Consumption: Both smoking and ingesting cannabis can lead to a decrease in saliva production, a phenomenon we like to call "cottonmouth."

  4. Vitamin A Deficiency: The least common culprit on this list, but one we should look at. Certain nutrient deficiencies, such as vitamin A, can contribute to dry mouth. Vitamin A is essential for maintaining the mucous membranes, including those in the nose and mouth. Reasons for Vitamin A deficiency can include: highly processed diets, limited consumption of animal products, limited access to fresh foods, mono-diets or extreme restrictive diets, limited access to fresh foods, & low-fat diets.

Consequences of Dry Mouth

The effects of dry mouth extend beyond mere discomfort. Some consequences include:

  1. Difficulty in Speaking: Reduced saliva can lead to difficulty in articulating words naturally. Not to mention the white stuff in the corner of your mouth.

  2. Bad Breath: Saliva helps cleanse the mouth, and its absence can lead to the proliferation of odor-causing bacteria.

  3. Increased Cavities: Saliva acts as a natural defense against cavities. Its absence can make teeth more susceptible to decay.

  4. Excessive Sugary/Acidic Consumption: Individuals with dry mouth may resort to consuming sugary or acidic beverages to alleviate discomfort, inadvertently worsening oral health.

Remedies for Dry Mouth

Addressing dry mouth involves adopting strategies that stimulate saliva production and maintain oral hygiene:

  1. Stay Hydrated: Drinking plenty of water throughout the day is crucial in preventing dehydration and dry mouth. If you’re dehydrated, no other solution can help. This is the first step in avoiding dry mouth.

  2. Natural Saliva Stimulants: Chewing on whole fruits like apples or carrots can naturally encourage saliva flow. This is a much better way to stimulate saliva than candy or soda.

  3. Nasal Breathing: Practicing nasal breathing helps prevent excessive mouth drying. It also contributes to a healthier respiratory system.

  4. Sugar-Free Gum: Chewing sugar-free gum can stimulate saliva production without contributing to cavities. The act of chewing can also help to broaden your nasal passages, allowing for easier nasal breathing. It’s also thought that chewing can strengthen certain muscles that help to broaden the face, creating a more attractive facial structure. Think broad jawline with no double-chin.

Things to Avoid

Certain substances can exacerbate dry mouth and its consequences:

  1. Caffeine: Caffeine can contribute to dehydration, intensifying dry mouth, especially when combined with cannabis consumption.

  2. Alcohol & Alcohol-based Mouthwash: These can further dry out the mouth, compounding the issue. Alcohol is known to dehydrate your system as well as your mouth.

  3. Soda and Sugary Drinks: These can give the sensation that they are helping, but are actually increasing the risk of cavities and will further worsen dry mouth symptoms.

It's important to address dry mouth, as saliva plays a crucial role in maintaining oral health. Saliva helps with digestion, speech, and preventing tooth decay by neutralizing acids produced by bacteria, washing away food particles, and providing minerals that strengthen tooth enamel. Hopefully, by recognizing the causes, consequences, and remedies of dry mouth, you and I can take proactive steps to avoid cottonmouth. Simple lifestyle adjustments can go a long way in preserving oral health while enjoying the benefits of cannabis. If you're experiencing persistent dry mouth, it's a good idea to consult a healthcare professional to determine the underlying cause and explore potential treatment options.


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