Around 77% of Americans are chronically dehydrated, according to a study by Quench, with the main reason for this phenomenon being a simple lack of thirst, followed by drinking other beverages that are not quite as hydrating. The daily rule (to consume four to six cups of water a day) is useful for most people, but some people (such as those with heart problems or those on certain medications) retain water so it is important to check with your doctor if you are unsure about how much you should be drinking. Even mild dehydration can have a negative impact on everything from your body temperature to digestion, joint health, and even dental health. If you are curious about the effect that dehydration can have on your tooth and gum health in particular, read on to discover the latest research on the subject.
Dehydration and Dry Mouth
A major cause of tooth decay is lack of saliva, which can occur when people have a low water intake. Saliva not only helps you swallow with ease; it also helps you rid teeth of excess food and bathes teeth in minerals such as fluoride, calcium, and phosphate. Having enough saliva in your mouth is vital in many more ways since it attacks decay-causing bacteria and helps to destroy fungi and viruses. By doing so, it also maintains fresh breath. Indeed, one of the main causes of bad breath is dehydration. Saliva additionally neutralizes acids produced by plaque, thus helping keep the tooth surface strong. Finally, saliva boosts sensation inside the mouth; as such, it helps you appreciate the texture and flavor of food, but it also helps you experience pain, which can indicate there is an oral health issue that needs addressing.
Hydration and Satiety
Drinking water can help you feel full and it can therefore play an important role in reducing bingeing on sugary foods when energy levels are low. A study by the Society for the Study of Ingestive Behavior used stomach MRI imagery combined with functional fMRI to show exactly how water affects the appetite, stomach, and brain. The study showed that drinking more water alters messages from the stomach, which are interpreted as fullness by the brain. The MRI images showed that one large glass of water doubled the stomach content when compared to one small glass. Study participants who drank this larger volume said they felt fuller. This is good news for those who tend to eat unhealthy foods between mealtimes. Maintaining good oral health involves sticking to a healthy diet and avoiding sugar slumps can help individuals do so.
Hydration and Healthy Gums
The same bacteria that cause decay can also cause plaque and bacteria to build up along the gum line. Allowing this process to occur can result in gum diseases such as gingivitis and even serious periodontitis, which can result in ‘pockets’ forming between teeth and gums. In severe cases of gum disease, bacteria makes its way to the bone that supports teeth. As bone wears away, teeth become loose and are eventually lost, resulting in a need for expensive treatments (including bone and tooth implants).
Dehydration and Bruxism
Around 8% of the general population takes part in bruxism – a forceful gnashing of teeth/jaw clenching that occurs during sleep. Bruxism causes everything from headaches to tooth wear and jaw pain, temporomandibular disorders, and pain in the muscles used to chew food. Bruxism can also cause teeth to become chipped or loose and can contribute to tooth loss. Doctors attribute the causes of bruxism to a variety of causes – including stress, age, some medications, nutritional deficiencies, and dehydration.
To prevent bruxism, aim to drink the right amount of water for your age and activity level. Older people often have a lesser feeling of thirst, so if you are aged 65+, speak to your doctor about how much water you should be drinking. If you wake up with a sore jaw, try exercises that soothe jaw muscles. These include the ‘thumb resistance’ exercise, which involves holding one thumb beneath your chin and opening your mouth slowly while applying pressure to the chin for between three to five seconds. Your dentist can also create a customized mouth guard to stop teeth grinding at night. Finally, aim to nip bruxism in the bud by seeing your doctor and discussing ways to reduce stress.
Signs You Might be Dehydrated
Dehydration can sometimes be hard to spot because symptoms don’t always manifest themselves. When they do, they can include feeling thirsty, having dark yellow urine, feeling dizzy, feeling fatigued, urinating less than four times a day, and having a dry mouth, lips, and eyes. In infants and young children dehydration can be even more elusive but symptoms can include sunken eyes and cheeks, crying without tears, having a dry mouth and tongue, and irritability.
Tips for Staying Hydrated
The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine reports that women who appear to be well hydrated consume an average of around 2.7 liters of water, while men drink around 3.7 liters. They added that people who are very physically active or who live in hot climates may need to consume more water. Those who live in very cold weather may also need to drink more water, since dry air can cause moisture loss, particularly at higher altitudes. Around 80% of people’s total water intake is sourced from water and other beverages while the other 20% is obtained from food. Therefore, it is important to include water-rich foods in your daily diet to stay energized and to maintain health.
During some moments in life, it is important to be particularly vigilant with your water intake. These include times in which you are vomiting or have bowel issues. As soon as this begins, start drinking water, if possible with electrolytes, to stop dehydration in its tracks. If you are planning a day of heavy exercise, start hydrating the day before at regular intervals. If you are older, know that your ability to retain water may be reduced. If you have minor illnesses such as the flu, a bladder infection, or even a cold, drink extra fluids and be vigilant over the color of your urine. If the latter is light and clear, it is a good sign that your hydration levels are as they should be.
What Foods can Help You Stay Hydrated?
Just a few foods you may include in your regular diet include water-dense fruits and vegetables such as cucumber (made up of 96% water), tomatoes (95% water), spinach (93% water), broccoli (90% water) and oranges (86% water). Watermelon, strawberries, cantaloupe, and all citrus fruits are good choices as well. If you are vegan, then nut milks can be a good choice when you are after something to mix with cereal or you simply require a beverage that is a little more filling. If you are non-vegan, you may opt for low-fat milk instead. A study by S. Shirreffs and colleagues found that milk was an effective post-exercise rehydration drink that can be considered by everyone except those with lactose intolerance.
If you love preparing meals for yourself and/or your family, then consider liquid foods such as broths and soups, which contain over 90% of water. Broths are a good low-cal choice that can help increase your feeling of fullness throughout the day. You can enjoy them plain or lend them an extra vitamin and antioxidant punch by adding vegetables like broccoli, carrots, onions, garlic, and more. Warm soups are ideal in the winter; in the summer, you might like to try out cold soups like tomato-cucumber or green gazpacho, known to be refreshing as well as highly nutritious.
The vast majority of Americans are dehydrated, with many having few to no indication of the fact. While there are recommended water intake levels, these are generic and need to be adapted to your lifestyle, activity level, and age. Failing to provide your body with the hydration it needs can result in everything from cavities to tooth loss and even bruxism. The latter not only wears down teeth but can also potentially loosen teeth and cause facial pain.
Addressing Those Bad Habits & Creating Better Ones
Although exercises and mouth guards can help lessen the impact of bruxism, hydration and stress relieving activities can help address the causes of this harmful habit. Staying hydrated is important is also key to gum health; oral dryness promotes the buildup of plaque along the gum line, leading to disease such as gingivitis and, eventually, to tooth loss. Hydration helps reduce levels of bacterial fungi, and viruses in the mouth. It also keeps breath fresh, by washing away these organisms and making the process of swallowing easier.
If you have doubts about how much water you should be drinking, see your doctor and let them know about issues that could impact your water needs – including your exercise habits and your diet. Aim to consume a diet that is rich in water-rich fruits and vegetables, since 20% of the hydration humans obtain comes from sources other than water and other beverages.
Jacob Hatch is the author and founder of Hydration Anywhere. He has been actively writing about drinking water since 2013. These days Jacob spends most of his time investigating water related news, studying environmental issues, reading health studies, and reviewing products like water bottles and water filters.