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It may not seem like a big deal that your mouth gets a little dry at night. But before you completely dismiss your symptoms and the discomfort that comes along with a dry mouth at night, consider what that lack of saliva may be doing to your oral health. What may seem like a little annoyance could be doing potential damage to your teeth, so it’s worth talking to your doctor about it. For now, use some coping methods until you can talk to your doctor or dentist about your symptoms and how they might be affecting more than just your ability to swallow.

What‘s the Big Deal?

Here’s the thing: What may seem like a little problem can actually have pretty big consequences. Saliva actually plays a large role in oral health, functioning as a way to help you digest food, avoid infection by keeping your mouth clean and even stave off cavities sometimes by preventing bacterial growth in your mouth, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. When your mouth is perpetually dry at night, it means that it isn’t producing enough saliva, which over time can lead to possible bacterial growth, along with an increased chance of cavities, difficulty swallowing and even infection.

What Causes Dry Mouth?

Whether it’s a new development or something you’ve struggled with for a long time, there are a number of reasons your body may not be making enough saliva. If you’ve recently started taking a new type of medication, you might notice your mouth getting dry. The American Dental Association estimates that there are more than 500 types of medication that can contribute to oral dryness. Other causes of dry mouth include side effects of different medical conditions and radiation and chemotherapy treatments, autoimmune disease, dehydration or lifestyle habits (chronic users of tobacco, for example).

Should I See My Doctor?

If your dry mouth is mild and occurs infrequently, chewing sugarless gum containing xylitol, sucking on a sugarless mint, drinking a glass of water or rinsing with an alcohol-free mouthwash, should help manage some discomfort, according to the Mayo Clinic. But if your dry mouth at night is chronic or started when you began taking a new medication, talk to your doctor and schedule an appointment with your dentist. Your doctor can help you learn whether the dry mouth is a side effect of a medication, and if appropriate, reduce dosage or try something new. Your dentist can check to make sure that your dry mouth hasn’t resulted in cavities or other oral health issues that need to be addressed.

Don’t make the mistake of dismissing your nightly dry mouth as no big deal. If it’s affecting your comfort and quality of life, it’s worth discussing with your health care providers. Together, you can come up with a solution that can help stop your dry mouth and prevent all the negative side effects that come with it. Good saliva production should make for sweet dreams — or at least better breath in the morning.