What causes dry mouth?

Chronic dry mouth, known as xerostomia, has long been associated with aging.  It occurs when the amount of saliva or spit available is not sufficient to keep your mouth sufficiently moist and comfortable.  There are surprisingly few scientific studies on this subject although it is a condition dentists observe routinely in older patients especially those taking certain types of medication.

 Symptoms include sticky, dry or burning sensation in the mouth specifically the tongue.  The saliva may be thick and stringy and difficulty “working up a good spit”. 

The most significant problem associated with decreased saliva flow is a marked increase in the bacteria and plaque build up.  Saliva lubricates the mouth, helps neutralize acids caused by bacteria and actually helps inhibit accumulation of bacteria/plaque.

 This, in turn, leads to noticeably more rapid decalcification of the teeth and subsequent tooth decay.  In older folks this commonly shows up between the teeth and at the gum line, hence, more gum inflammation problems. Dentures also tend to be less comfortable without the lubricating qualities provided by saliva hence, more gum inflammation problems as well. 

  The medications known to have the potential to actually cause this problem include diuretics (“water pills” for high blood pressure), NSAIDS (Ibuprofen, Acetaminophen), antidepressants (Prozac and the like) and daily aspirin but many others have been shown to be associated with this problem.  Radiation treatment for head and neck cancer has been shown to reduce saliva flow up to 60% due to damage to the salivary gland cells. 

Managing dry mouth involves mostly diligent dental hygiene home care using fluoride mouth rinses. Chew sugar free gum or candy to stimulate saliva and eat healthy.  Naturally you need regular dental cleanings and examinations to identify those problems before they progress.

 Enjoy your smile….Everybody else does!


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