Having trouble wetting your whistle? You’re not alone.
Dry mouth, or xerostomia, commonly affects older adults. It results from the inadequate flow of saliva, and is a symptom of various medical conditions and a side effect of more than 400 medications.
Normal salivary flow is important for digestion, cleansing and moistening of the oral tissues, pH balance, and ridding food debris from the mouth. When salivary flow decreases, harmful decay-causing bacteria begin to grow and flourish within the mouth. A combination of these factors can lead to serious health problems.
Over the counter and prescription medications are the most common cause of dry mouth. The main culprits include antihistamines, decongestants, diuretics, antidepressants, painkillers, antihypertensives, antipsychotics and sedatives.
The positive correlation between age and number of medications means that older adults are more likely to suffer from dry mouth. Among adults aged 65 years old and up, approximately 20 percent are affected by xerostomia.
While dry mouth is merely a small hindrance to some people, others can encounter more serious problems. Difficulty speaking and swallowing, dryness of the nasal passages, hoarseness, constant sore throat, and a burning sensation are a few of the common problems associated with xerostomia.
Dental health is also adversely affected by dry mouth. Not only does a drought in your mouth have the possibility of irritating tissue and making your mouth more susceptible to infection, but it’s a climate that increases the possibility of tooth decay and periodontal disease.
Denture wearers are especially likely to experience an uncomfortable feeling in their mouth because saliva creates suction between the denture and gum tissue. Saliva also acts as a lubricant to prevent irritation and abrasion, and the possibility of sores or infection increases with decreased salivary flow.
While it is important to see your doctor to address the underlying cause of your xerostomia, there are ways to alleviate dry mouth.
First, the obvious solution is increasing your fluid intake. Increase your daily intake of water and you’ve got a good chance at alleviating dry mouth. Make sure you’re limiting your intake of caffeine, alcohol and carbonated beverages. It may seem like a good idea to grab a soda when you’ve got dry mouth, but soda or coffee drinks can actually exacerbate the problem.
Sugar-free gum or candy can help stimulate salivary flow. Recent research indicates that the sugar substitute xylitol actually helps to inhibit the formation of cavities. So, choosing a gum or lozenge with xylitol may help you resist cavities.
Your dentist or physician may recommend artificial saliva, a product available at most local pharmacies, in an aerosol or liquid that is squirted into the mouth. There are also new saliva promoting tablets that adhere to teeth at bedtime that help to keep the mouth moist throughout the night.
If none of these solutions seem to help your dry mouth, let your physician or dentist know you’re experiencing a problem. Getting help from a medical or dental professional can not only help address any problems caused by dry mouth at an early stage, but can lead to alternatives for treatment you may not have otherwise sought out.