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Is Dry Mouth Affecting Your Lifestyle?

Dry mouth, or xerostomia, is a common problem amongst the older demographic. It can cause significant mouth/ throat disorders, pain and an impaired quality of life. Dry mouth has many causes, from local salivary disorders and medical conditions to prescriptions that one may be taking.

Saliva plays a critical role in the preservation of oral health. Dry mouth can result in impaired food and beverage intake, gum disease, cavities and tooth decay, and issues with communication. The digestive process is initiated by enzymes in saliva, thus its absence translates into more burden on the intestinal system. This can lead to more difficulty with digestion and potential of reduction in nutrients allowed for absorption. Reduced saliva also changes the pH levels in the body causing a more acidic environment which can lead to breakdown in enamel.

Causes of Dry Mouth


The most common cause of salivary disorders is the use of prescription and non-prescription medications. There are more than 400 medications associated with salivary gland dysfunction as an adverse side effect. Because elderly people are more likely than the rest of the population to be taking some medication, and are more vulnerable to their side effects, medication driven dry mouth is quite common. Common medications with dry mouth as a side effect are antidepressants, sedatives and tranquilizers, antihistamines, anti-hypertensives, (alpha and beta blockers, diuretics, calcium channel blockers, angiotensinconverting enzyme inhibitors) certain bronchodilators, muscle relaxers, and anti-Parkinsonism and anti-seizure drugs. Chemotherapy and radiation for cancer treatments also have been associated with salivary disorders. After completing therapy, most patients experience a return of normal salivary function; however, long-term changes in salivary function have been reported.

Medical Conditions

Other causes of dry mouth are salivary gland diseases, diabetes, hormonal imbalance, Sjögren's syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, HIV/ AIDS, Alzheimer’s, anemia, cystic fibrosis, hypertension, Parkinson’s, and lupus. Other factors include mouth breathing, stress, anxiety, depression, the use of alcohol and tobacco, and dehydration.

What are the signs and symptoms of dry mouth?

Patients that complain of dry mouth may have trouble speaking, eating, tasting food and swallowing. The dryness may cause chapped or cracked lips or cause a persistent cough. They may complain of sores in their mouth, or a fungal infection like yeast (candidiasis). A burning tongue or throat, inflamed soft tissue, gum disease, ulcers, sores, are all effects of oral dryness. Without enough saliva to rinse away food particles from the teeth, neutralize acids in the mouth, and battle the bacteria population, a person will end up developing multiple cavities, especially around the gum line.

Can dry mouth be treated?

Unfortunately, there is really no way to prevent dry mouth, only the side effects of dry mouth. It is vital to detect, diagnose and treat xerostomia as early as possible to avoid the devastating effects of dry mouth on dental and overall health. The first step is establishing a diagnosis. This will help when establishing a management plan. Depending on the type of diagnosis, different remedies will be recommended.

A low sugar diet and daily uses of topical fluorides and antimicrobial rinses are critical to help with the prevention of dental cavities. It is important to choose a rinse that does not contain alcohol, because the alcohol will only worsen the dryness. Increasing fluid intake throughout the day is recommended, especially while eating. Sugar-free chewing gum, candies and mints that contain xylitol can help to stimulate the saliva flow. The ones that contain sugar cause the person to be at a greater risk for developing cavities. Artificial saliva substitutes and oral lubricants containing glycerin will provide help during eating and speaking. Humidifiers at night have also shown to help. They won't cure xerostomia, but will give some relief.

Oral candidiasis is a frequent complication of dry mouth and most commonly is treated with topical antifungal agents. Denture wearers should be aware that dentures can harbor the fungal infection so it is imperative to soak them daily in a benzoic acid, chlorhexidine or sodium hypochlorite solution.

Bottom line: It is hard enough dealing with the ailment that is causing your dry mouth. There is no reason to suffer. Reach out to your dentist and get the help you deserve.