Is this intense summer heat making my mouth sick?
If you reside in Jamaica, you should be experiencing the intense, seemingly everlasting heat and drought conditions affecting our land. Unfortunately, we have no choice but to endure conditions until they subside.
It is, therefore, important to know the possible ill effects these issues can have on our bodies, including our mouths, and how best to care for ourselves, during this time.
The most common manifestation of the existing climatic condition is dehydration. This can have many negative effects on our bodies.
Dehydration is a condition which occurs when the body does not have enough water to regulate its normal functions.
The average human body is made up of approximately 65 per cent water and uses this precious commodity for many processes, including urination, defecation, breathing and sweating.
If water and salts are not replenished when lost, or, if we lose more water than we take in, our bodies will become dehydrated.
Common symptoms of dehydration include:
- Increased thirst
- Dry mouth
- Increased heart rate
- Inability to sweat
- Reduced urine output
Dehydration and Oral Health
So, how exactly does dehydration affect one's mouth?
Dehydration often results in the reduction in the production of saliva, causing dry mouth. This, in turn, can increase one's susceptibility to problems such as mouth sores (mucositis), gum disease (gingivitis) and even cavities.
Saliva is the first line of defence for our teeth and gums, as it not only moisturises our oral mucosa, but it also contains nutrients and antibodies which prevent bacterial growth and protect our tooth enamel (the outer layer of the tooth).
When salivary flow is reduced, the mouth is less able to clear food debris and plaque from our teeth and gums, resulting in an environment that is ideal for bacterial growth. This can cause bad breath, gum diseases and tooth decay.
Our oral health is even further compromised as a result of the ongoing water lock-offs, which prevents most of us from effectively conducting routine oral-hygiene practices such as brushing our teeth before retiring to bed.
Some simple ways to keep our bodies hydrated and healthy during the summer heat are:
- Drink plenty of water. Experts recommend at least one gallon (eight, eight-ounce glasses) of water per day.
- Consider sports beverages that contain the necessary ions (salts) to restore your body's electrolytes.
- Physically active persons who tend to sweat a lot should drink plenty of fluids before and after activity.
- Limit alcohol consumption, as alcohol has diuretic properties, and will promote water excretion.
- Try to stay in well ventilated or air conditioned environments.
- Limit direct exposure to heat by dressing appropriately. Consider wearing accessories like hats and light-coloured, loose clothing.
Dehydration significantly increases one's risk to oral infections. If you have suffered from dehydration and have recovered, we advise that you visit your dentist as soon as possible to assess if your dental health has been affected in any way. Early diagnosis and treatment/management will go a far way in preventing irreversible damage to your oral cavity.