Xerostomia is the medical term used for dry mouth, a condition that results from decreased salvia in the mouth, and puts many seniors, and others, at high risk for dental decay.
With a population that has more seniors than in previous generations it is important that dental care be included in their health regimes. It is always important for a person to take care of their teeth, but the issues of aging can make it more difficult for some seniors to properly care for their oral health. Proper dental care is essential for senior citizens to help them avoid issues such as root decay, gum disease, thrush, tooth loss and dry mouth, a major problem for many older adults.
Saliva is an essential part of a healthy mouth and is often taken for granted. The lubricating properties of saliva provide comfort and help protect the oral tissues against ulcers, sores, and other frictional movements that accompany normal eating and speaking. Saliva neutralizes acids and helps defend against tooth decay, and bacterial, viral, or fungal threats. Salvia also helps to digest food and is an essential contributor to a person’s ability to taste. When salvia volume is insufficient, all of these functions are impaired.
What is dry mouth & who is at risk?
The medical term is Xerostomia, but you’ve probably heard it referred to as cotton mouth, but most people call it dry mouth. Dry mouth is more than just feeling thirsty. You get it when your mouth makes very little saliva, or none at all. It’s that parched, gritty, sticky feeling that comes when a person is not producing enough salvia. It’s a problem that can kill your appetite, cause cavities, and can result in rampant tooth decay if gone unchecked.
Dry mouth affects about 10 percent of all people and tends to be more prevalent in women than men. Everyone can be susceptible to dry mouth, however seniors are particularly prone because of many of the medications they take. There are many causes of dry mouth, but most commonly occurs as a side effect of medications that cause deceased saliva production, including high blood pressure medications, antihistamines, antidepressants, diuretics, decongestants, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories, narcotics, chemotherapy, radiation therapy and conditions like Parkinson’s and diabetes, and many others.
In addition to many medications and medical conditions, dry mouth can also be caused by smoking or chewing tobacco, sleeping with the mouth open or even snoring. Dry mouth can also be a sign or symptom of more serious illnesses. Be sure to contact your health and/or dental care professional for diagnosis and treatment, if necessary.
Symptoms of dry mouth:
Those afflicted by experience a constant sore throat, dry nasal passages, a loss of appetite, difficulty swallowing and speaking, and, ultimately dental decay. Some additional signs and symptoms many people with dry mouth often have may include:
Frequent thirst or increased need to drink liquids in order to swallow
Diminished or altered sense of taste
Chapped, cracked lips or dry corners of the mouth
Mouth sores, painful tongue, tongue ulcers
Difficulty wearing dentures
White tongue or coating on the tongue.
Sticky, stringy saliva
Burning or tingling sensation in the mouth, tongue, or throat
Red, bleeding gums, gingivitis and periodontitis
Treatment and tips:
The first step is establishing a diagnosis with your health care practitioner followed up by a dental evaluation to assess oral complications from low salivary output. Often oral moisturizers and lubricants as well as humidifiers while sleeping can be very helpful. Patients are often instructed to drink fluids while eating, especially if foods are dry or coarse. In addition, below are a few helpful tips if you are currently suffering from dry mouth:
Chew sugar-free gum and or suck on sugar-free mints. Sugar-free lemon drops or other hard candies may help stimulate the salivary glands. Always look for products that contain Xylitol, a sweetener that actually helps prevent cavities.
Long lasting adhering discs/lozenges such as XyliMelts or using a dry mouth spray.
Drink plenty of water particularly after snacks, and avoid foods that stick to the teeth, including raisins, soda crackers and pretzels.
Sucking ice chips throughout the day to help the mouth remain as moist as possible.
Avoid alcohol, caffeine and tobacco.
Dry to avoid dry and spicy foods as well as excessively hot or cold drinks.
Mouthwashes which contain alcohol should be avoided, because they may worsen dry mouth symptoms.
If your medication is causing your dry mouth, talk to your doctor to see if they can alter the dosage or prescribe another drug that is less likely to cause dry mouth.
Remember to call your dentist to schedule a consultation for your specific dental needs.