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If you’ve ever been excessively thirsty after a long, strenuous workout or sweaty on a hot day, you may have been dehydrated. Dehydration occurs when you aren’t drinking enough fluids to replace those you have lost. And since water makes up more than two-thirds of your body, any loss of fluids can affect normal bodily functions, according to the National Health Service (NHS). Fluid loss has many causes and consequences, but does dehydration negatively impact your oral health?

Causes and Effects of Dehydration

Extreme physical activity, especially in hot weather, or a diet that is lacking sufficient water can result in dehydration, as can illnesses with persistent vomiting, diarrhea or excessive sweating, explains the NHS.

The Mayo Clinic warns that dehydration can cause heat cramps, heat exhaustion or heatstroke, urinary and kidney problems, seizures due to electrolyte imbalance and, the most serious possible consequence, loss of consciousness due to low blood volume.

Oral Health Consequences of Dehydration

Dehydration can also affect the health of your teeth and gums. As the American Dental Association (ADA) notes, saliva plays an important role in keeping your mouth healthy by washing away food debris and bacteria from your teeth and gums and neutralizing bacterial acids. The ADA also explains that saliva bathes your teeth with calcium, phosphate and fluoride, which are minerals that help to strengthen your teeth. So, if you are dehydrated and your volume of saliva decreases, this can increase your risk of dry mouth and dental disease. Dry mouth can also lead to bad breath, mouth sores and mouth infections, as the National Institutes of Health explains.

How to Tell If You’re Dehydrated

The Mayo Clinic says that symptoms of dehydration vary, depending on age, and thirst is not always the most dependable indicator of your body’s need for water.

Young children and infants may show signs of dehydration when they cry without tears or their diaper hasn’t been wet for over three hours. Their mouth and tongue may be dry and their eyes and cheeks may appear to be sunken. Irritability and listlessness can also be signs of dehydration. And because of their low body weight, infants can become dehydrated with even slight fluid loss.

Adults may urinate less and have dark colored urine, along with excessive thirst. In addition, they may feel dizzy, fatigued or confused. The NHS also notes that adults with health conditions such as diabetes and alcoholism are even more susceptible to dehydration.

Tips for Combating Dehydration

Consuming lots of liquids and foods with high water content, such as fruits and vegetables, can help prevent dehydration, according to the Mayo Clinic. Healthy individuals should use their thirst as a guide to how much water they need. Most everyone drinks extra water in hot, humid weather, but you also need extra fluids during cold weather because the air holds less moisture.

If you routinely exercise strenuously, you should begin hydrating the day before. Hydrating during and after a workout is also important. If you exercise for longer than an hour, consider a drink that includes both water and electrolytes, which can help your body better retain critical nutrients, according to the Consortium for Health and Military Performance. A good rule of thumb to follow is to drink 3 to 8 fluid ounces‚ approximately a few gulps‚ every 15 to 20 minutes.

So, back to the question: Does dehydration negatively impact your oral health? Yes it can‚ however, now that you know the importance of staying hydrated, you can drink your way to a healthy mouth and a beautiful smile.