Dry mouth (xerostomia) and its contribution to periodontal (gum) disease

A dry mouth (xerostomia) is a condition where the salivary glands fail to produce enough saliva to keep the mouth moist. Once this happens, there is no way for food debris or bacteria to be washed from the surface of teeth and this can greatly increase the chances of cavities and periodontal (gum) disease. Although a dry mouth may seem insignificant at first, if it persists, consulting a dentist is highly recommended as the consequences can be dire.

Causes of Xerostomia

A side effect from prescription drug use is one potential cause of xerostomia. Drugs used to treat conditions like depression, anxiety, acne, epilepsy, hypertension, asthma, and more all carry the risk of causing xerostomia. Certain medical conditions also have the ability to cause dry mouth. Nerve damage and dehydration are both possibilities. Lifestyle choices also affect a person’s potential for developing xerostomia. Smoking, eating sugary foods, and continuously breathing with an open mouth each add to the likelihood of developing xerostomia.

Gum Disease

Inflammation of the gum caused by excessive plaque and bacteria is known as gingivitis. If left untreated, gingivitis escalates into full blown periodontal (gum) disease. The gum is fully infected at that point and if nothing is done, the bone and connective tissue that holds teeth in place will disintegrate.

From Xerostomia to Gum Disease

A patient with xerostomia is a prime candidate to eventually suffer from gum disease. Without treatment, xerostomia allows bacteria and plaque to stay on teeth where it will first evolve into gingivitis and then periodontal (gum) disease. Once a patient has developed gum disease, he or she will experience symptoms like persistent bad breath, swollen or red gums that may bleed, pain while chewing, loose or sensitive teeth, and receding gums.


An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and this is especially true of dry mouth (xerostomia). Treatment of xerostomia is best done by changing bad habits and addressing the ongoing causes of the condition. Taking steps like limiting caffeine, limiting use of antihistamines and decongestants, breathing through the nose and not the mouth, and placing a humidifier in living and sleeping areas can all mean the difference between eliminating the risk of xerostomia and allowing it to escalate into full blow periodontal (gum) disease.

Once xerostomia has evolved into periodontal disease, treatment options can be far more severe. Treatments begin with professional cleaning, scaling and root planing. If that isn’t enough, surgery, bone grafts, soft tissue grafts, and guided tissue regeneration may be considered. Overall, early attention and treatment are best. If possible, try not to allow xerostomia to evolve into the much more damaging periodontal disease.