Is dry mouth an age-related condition?
SUMMARY: While people of all ages can develop dry mouth, older adults are at greater risk due in great part to common medications.
Posted: March 13, 2014
When people hear the term "dry mouth," they often shrug it off as merely an uncomfortable situation - like being thirsty. However, dry mouth is a real oral condition: Also known as xerostomia, it occurs when your body is unable to produce enough saliva, which is essential for moistening and cleaning the mouth as well as digesting food. People with this condition may also be at a greater risk of oral infection, which saliva helps prevent by keeping fungus and bacteria in the mouth at bay.
People of all ages can have this condition, and there are many causes for dry mouth, such as:
- illnesses and diseases that leads to dehydration
- damage to the salivary glands caused by chemotherapy treatment or injury
- certain medications
About one-third of Americans suffer from xerostomia at some point during their lifetime, and older people are at a higher risk of developing dryness in the mouth for a multitude of reasons.
Why does age increase the risk?
One of the large causes of xerostomia in older adults is the increased use of medications that come with aging. In fact, reduced salivation function is a side effect of some 500 different medications. Drugs used to provide relief from anxiety, depression, hypertension, urinary incontinence, Parkinson's disease, asthma and pain are among the many prescriptions that can lead to low salivation. Another big cause is antihistamines and other allergy medications. Additionally, as people get older, they often find their bodies are simply less capable of producing saliva and, combined with the use of these products, this can lead to an intolerable case of dry mouth.
While xerostomia is reversible for most people - and there are plenty of dry mouth treatments on the market - some must live with the condition their whole lives. And it's more than just an unpleasant? situation. People with dry mouth have reported experiencing a continuous feeling of thirst, stickiness in the mouth, burning sensations on the tongue, sore throat and bad breath. They may even have a hard time swallowing, chewing and tasting food, and many seniors have trouble wearing dentures due to lack of moisture in the mouth. But perhaps the biggest reason to avoid dry mouth is that it greatly increases one's risk of developing gum disease - this periodontal condition is linked to heart disease, which is a growing concern for seniors and all American adults.
There are plenty of dry mouth remedies one can turn to, no matter the cause of their xerostomia. Drinking plenty of water is key, and selecting a toothpaste that contains fluoride can help. You might also benefit from chewing on sugar-free gum, using a humidifier at night and, of course, seeing your dentist regularly. In some cases, your dentist or physician may prescribe a medication that boosts your body's ability to produce saliva.