There’s a lot to dislike about allergies. There’s nothing fun about a red, runny nose. Itchy, watery eyes are a giant drag. Feeling stuffed up all the time is not a pleasant way to feel. Is it any wonder that many of us will consider just about anything to eliminate or at the very least control the unwelcome symptoms that allergies bring into our daily lives! The cost, however, of being willing to do anything to get rid of our allergies is that sometimes the cure to one problem can create or worsen a different problem. In the case of allergies and your oral health, the problem that both allergies and some of the treatments for allergies can aggravate is dry mouth. And, dry mouth is most assuredly a serious problem for good oral health.
The Allergy Paradox—How Your Runny Nose Can Leave Your Mouth Dry
When you think of seasonal allergies, a stuffy, runny nose is likely to be the very first thing that comes to mind. People who suffer from seasonal allergies tend to suffer at specific times of the year when the substance that they are sensitive to, such as a specific type of plant pollen or mold spores, peaks in the air. A person can suffer from seasonal allergies in any season, not just spring, whenever the trouble allergen (aggravating substance) is at its high level. Environmental allergies, like pet and animal dander or dust mites, also usually cause a runny nose. Those environmental allergies tend to act up in winter when houses are sealed tight from the outdoors, but they can bother allergic individuals any time of the year. Basically, allergy season, and thus runny nose season can be any season of the year or it can run all year depending on the allergic person’s triggers.
The runny nose that’s so annoying is caused by the allergic person’s immune system overreacting to a non-dangerous substance (pollen, dander, etc.). When the immune system gets triggered, it pumps out chemicals including histamine. Histamine makes noses run and skin break out in rashes. That runny nose may be wet, but it quickly dries out the mucous membranes in your nasal passages to blow your nose all the time. Worse still, a stuffy nose tends to make you into a mouth breather, which, in turn, quickly dries out your mouth.
An Ounce of Cure… A Ton of New Problems
The number one way that allergies dry out your mouth, if you suffer from them may not be the mouth breathing they can inspire. After all, if you break out in hives rather than getting a stuffy nose, your allergies might not change how you breathe. But, in your (understandable) zeal to be done with your allergies, you probably reach for the allergy medication. Allergy medications generally are a type of medication called antihistamines, medicine that stops histamine from causing problems for the allergic person. Unfortunately, antihistamines are notoriously likely to have dry mouth as a side effect. In fact, research into the specific way antihistamines work has found evidence that antihistamines directly affect the salivary glands—the part of the body that makes saliva. Medication for allergy relief is likely to cause dry mouth, thus directly causing dental problems.
So How Do You Fight Both Problems?
Your teeth need saliva to stay healthy. Saliva washes away food debris that feeds cavity-causing bacteria and keeps the minerals that your tooth enamel needs to stay strong in contact with your teeth and available to reincorporate into your teeth after acid attacks from eating. (You can learn more about dry mouth here.) If you can avoid allergy triggers and minimize your need for medication, you can probably avoid allergic dry mouth as well. If you need dry mouth inducing allergy medication, be sure to share your medication use with your dental care team so they can help you mitigate the risks from taking such medications. You should also make sure to sip plain water throughout the day to keep your mouth moistened. A mouth spray or oral care rinse to supplement your saliva may also be helpful. Chewing sugar-free xylitol gum can help fight dry mouth by stimulating saliva production.
Just remember, treating your allergies may cause problems for your oral health. Should you suffer from allergy-related dry mouth, treat your dry mouth as the serious concern that it is and treat it too, preventing additional problems in the form of damaged teeth at your next dental visit.