The COVID-19 pandemic has presented new challenges in all aspects of our lives, and oral health isn’t any different. The increased presence of dry mouth has become one of the major issues facing patients from all backgrounds. Dr. I. Stephen Brown and The Perio Group team have witnessed a noticeable increase in cases of dry mouth since safely reopening the dental practice.
What causes dry mouth?
Dry mouth is an oral health condition that can be broken into two distinct types: xerostomia relates to a patient’s perception of dry mouth while hyposalivation is a pathological issue defined by reduced saliva flow. In either case, it is a problem that is caused by a lack of saliva production in the salivary glands.
While it is a condition that affects almost everyone from time to time, persistent dry mouth can be immensely damaging to a person’s overall oral health. Given its nature, figures on how many people have ongoing dry mouth range from anywhere between 1% and 65%. The main causes of dry mouth are;
- Medication side effects,
- Cancer treatment,
- Underlying health issues.
The plethora of underlying health conditions include; Sjögren’s syndrome, Alzheimer’s disease, HIV, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, Hepatitis C, Lymphoma, hypertension, and various mental health conditions ranging from anxiety to depression.
Dry mouth caused by a lack of saliva production by the salivary glands can impact the oral cavity as well as your general quality of life. It can increase the risk of tooth decay and oral viruses while also making it harder to chew, swallow, and talk. When you have dry mouth, finding a solution is vital.
Due to COVID-19, it’s a challenge that even more people are faced with.
Why is dry mouth more common during COVID-19?
The reasons behind the lack of saliva production can be linked to many issues, but the most common are;
- Changes in mental wellbeing,
- Dietary and lifestyle changes.
Changes in mental wellbeing
Anxiety is the most common health issue linked to hypersalivation, impacting the composition and flow of saliva production. This is partly due to the fact that the central nervous system (CNS) is responsible for regulating the salivary reflexes. Meanwhile, depression and other stress-inducing mental health conditions are a huge threat to the activity of the salivary glands.
Right now, our collective mental health is under greater strain than ever before thanks to COVID-19. Experts at The American Psychological Association (APA) have pinpointed the impacts of social detachment and isolation during this time as one of the pandemic’s biggest problems.
Loneliness is further exacerbated by the stress of job insecurity, along with the continued fears of getting the disease. Worse still, it is virtually impossible to trick your body into feeling unstressed. If the situations caused by the pandemic are making you stressed or anxious, saliva production and regulation may undergo noticeable changes, thus leading to xerostomia.
The human body needs regular hydration, and even a minor drop in hydration levels can severely impact your physical and mental wellbeing. Dry mouth is naturally one of the most noticeable changes. The average adult can use the 8×8 rule (eight 8oz glasses per day), although contributing factors such as climate and physical activity can impact this.
COVID-19 makes it significantly harder to stay hydrated throughout the day due to wearing Personal Protective Equipment throughout the day, potentially for several hours at a time. Likewise, you may be hesitant to carry a bottle in public areas as the virus can stay on surfaces all day long.
Even patients that have largely stayed indoors may find that dehydration has increased as a sedentary lifestyle can make it easier to ignore your thirst. When this process is repeated for a few days, the impact on your hydration levels can be vast. Consequently, then, saliva production levels may fall as a result. Moreover, dehydration may harm your immune systems, increasing the threat of COVID-19.
Dietary and lifestyle changes
Boredom, a loss of routine, and restricted possibilities are a common theme at this immensely difficult time. If your lifestyle has changed dramatically since the pandemic, it’s likely that biological impacts will have occurred. Dry mouth is one of the most common, especially if lifestyle alterations have been coupled with modifications to your diet and nutritional habits.
Alcohol is a diuretic, which will lead to dehydration and dry mouth. Alcohol consumption has increased for a lot of people since the start of the pandemic, which has contributed to the growing presence of dry mouth cases. Alcohol consumption is often worsened by the heightened use of tobacco.
Lifestyle changes may also extend to dehydrating yourself by spending more time wrapped up in the warm, especially over the colder months. Meanwhile, most patients are now self-medicating in a wide range of health conditions. The side effects of various medicines can have a telling influence on the activities of your salivary glands and could be a leading cause of your common issues.
Overcoming dry mouth during COVID-19
Beating dry mouth during COVID-19 is largely an assignment that revolves around trying to restore normality to your daily habits, including hydration, lifestyle choices, and oral hygiene. While the pandemic does pose new challenges, maintaining habits that encourage healthy salivary glands will establish the strongest platform for success throughout the coming months.
A conscious effort to avoid falling into bad habits during these times can be supported further by daily routines to reduce stress. Nonetheless, professional dental care remains an important ingredient in the recipe for success. And even the pandemic should not stop you from seeking the right care.
Dr. Brown and his team can provide a safe environment and a comprehensive dental care that includes spotting the clear signs of dehydration. This could include a wide range of symptoms, including but not limited to;
- Oral thrush,
- Gum disease,
- Saliva composition,
- Oral mucosa fissuring.
When dry mouth is diagnosed, Dr. Brown can also investigate the reasons for it surfacing during COVID-19 before devising the best lifestyle changes or course of treatment for dry mouth.