A reader with a bad breath problem wrote in a few months ago for advice. Without knowing anything more about him, my first impulse was to offer that perhaps his oral hygiene could use some improvement.
After all, the most obvious solution to any malady is 95% of the time going to be the right one. But sometimes, there are other causes for everyday problems, such as the one with which this reader was struggling.
There are a variety of things that can cause bad breath, even if you are a fastidious brusher and flosser.
One that tops the list right under hygiene and diet is dry mouth.
Called xerostomia, dry mouth is a condition marked by a whole host of frustrating, and even sometimes hidden, symptoms. They mimic dehydration in many ways, so understanding the difference can be tough.
Foamy or thick, stringy saliva
Dry, cracked lips
Problems speaking, chewing, and swallowing
Dry eyes and nose
Sufferers may even show alarmingly frequent secondary conditions that occur as a result of dry mouth, including yeast infections in the mouth and reproductive areas, increase in cavities and periodontal disease, and infections like bronchitis, laryngitis and pneumonia.
If you’ve narrowed your bad breath problem to dry mouth, then the next logical step is to look at the causes to see what could be setting this frustrating condition off.
The biggest factor is medication-related, and there is a whole laundry list of medications that contribute to dry mouth. If you are taking more than one at a time, then your likelyhood of developing dry mouth naturally increases.
Medications that cause dry mouth include those to treat:
Anxiety and depression
Muscle and joint pain
High blood pressure
When looking at the possible negative side effects of these medications, the really unnerving ones like coma, risk of bleeding, stroke, birth defects, or what have you, usually command the biggest portion of our attention.
We typically skim right over the ones that don’t seem as deadly like stomach upset, dizziness and dry mouth.
But if you separate each negative effect apart from the others and look at the risks associated with each on its own, the less critical ones suddenly become worrysome.
Dizziness can lead to car accidents, falls, and head injuries. Stomach upset, diarrhea and vomiting lead to dehydration an malnutrition.
Dry mouth leads to infections that can be life-threatening, especially for those with compromised immune systems anyway. Pneumonia is nothing to snicker at. Bronchitis in an asthmatic can land a guy in the hospital.
Here’s the rub- many of the problems from diseases that these medicines are designed to prevent are what make the side effects so much more problematic if the medications are taken in the first place.
It’s like a person can’t win.
However, this is the place where you would normally see the comments regarding the virtues of getting off medications wherever possible, or at least seeing about getting the dosage reduced.
Well, I don’t want to disappoint. It is going to be critical for anyone who is suffering from the adverse effects of these medications- even if it’s just the “minor” side effects like dry mouth- to talk to the prescriber about pursuing natural methods.
As we age, more problems are going to crop up. I get that. It’s like every five years we have to add another pill to the cocktail we take every morning. But as we age, we are also less able to mitigate the damage caused by those very medications.
That’s why prevention is such a critical part of disease management. While safe products to reduce dry mouth (like Biotene) are out there to help reduce the effects of dry mouth, reducing or eliminating the problem the medication is designed to treat naturally is always going to be preferred over racing behind it with medications, trying in vain to catch up.
If you noticed any of the symptoms of dry mouth and you are not chemically dehydrated, it’s time to talk to the doctor about your prescription and over-the-counter medications. See what you can do together to reduce the dosages safely.