SUMMARY: Senior citizens are the most at-risk for dry mouth. Get things back on track by learning about the signs and remedies for this common ailment.
That medicinal cocktail you found in Gramp's bathroom cabinet is not so uncommon. Senior citizens may need a boost, and many take medications to provide it. However, they are not without a cost. More than 400 prescribed and over-the-counter medications are used to combat ailments, and many have a leading oral health issue as a side effect: dry mouth. Medicine used to treat chronic conditions - ranging from heart disease, high blood pressure, depression, Parkinson's disease and hay fever - can trigger dry mouth.
Xerostomia, the subjective sensation of dry mouth, occurs when there is a lack of saliva in the mouth. Chronic dry mouth can include either reduced or absent saliva production - either way, the saliva glands are not working up to par. The condition is often induced by prescription or non-prescription medication as a side effect.
For National Healthy Aging Month in September, Delta Dental of Illinois warned against the potential dangers of medications that cause dry mouth. Approximately four out of five senior citizens have at least one chronic condition, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Most treat that problem with prescribed or over-the-counter medicine. The American Dental Association made a push to include warning-label information on certain medications to raise awareness on oral health problems and side effects.
Why is it harmful?
Since saliva helps rinse out the mouth and clean? the teeth, dry mouth can result in halitosis, gum disease, a rise in dental cavities and oral infections.
"As our population ages, there are more people with chronic medical conditions taking multiple prescription medications," explained Dr. Katina Spadoni, dental director for Delta Dental of Illinois. "It's important to remember that many of these may cause dry mouth and increase the risk for tooth decay and other oral problems. Regular dental visits can help older adults with early detection of problems [by giving] the appropriate guidance."
The dentures sitting beside the bathroom sink may not be going anywhere, but we can take measures to help prevent the need for them. The New York Times recently highlighted that dry mouth is an effect of prescription medication and a major contributor for worsening oral health for residents in nursing homes.
How can we adjust?
Xerostamia (the subjective sensation of dry mouth) is a common issue, but correcting the dosage or getting a new prescription may improve oral health. Talk to your physician about possible solutions.
What are some of the signs that you may have dry mouth?
- The grandkids fleeing from Gramps because of his bad breath could be a red flag. Normally, saliva washes down bacteria and food particles, but without it, breath may become unpleasant, allowing bad breath causes like dry mouth to take over.
- Constant thirst: If a bottle of water a day turns into three or four a day, keep an eye out for dry mouth.
- Cracked lips: winter isn't the only thing that brings on peeling or cracked lips; dry mouth can affect them as well.
- Inflammation of the tongue and tongue ulcers.
- Excessive dental plaque and tooth decay: If you notice a build-up of plaque or gunk on those pearly whites, it could be a good cue that you have dry mouth.
- Problems speaking, swallowing and chewing. Food may not be as enjoyable with xerostamia.
Dry Mouth Treatments
- A good alcohol-free oral rinse can spur saliva production.
- Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated and keep the mouth moist.
- Suck on sugar-free candies to get the glands working more efficiently.
- Chewing gum can also stimulate saliva flow.
- Guard against tooth decay and plaque build-up by using a toothpaste with fluoride. If you can't remember your dentist's name or what he or she looks like, it's likely a good tip-off that you should schedule a visit. Routine check-ups can keep your mouth healthy and moist.
* These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Please Note: The material on this site is provided for informational purposes only. Always consult your health care professional before beginning any new therapy.