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The Facts about Dry Mouth

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Dry mouth occurs due to lack of normal saliva flow and needs to be monitored so it does not cause more serious effects in the oral cavity. Dry mouth is most commonly reported among the elderly and is often related to systemic diseases they suffer from or the medications taken to manage those diseases.1 Over 500 medications cause dry mouth and when the elderly take multiple medications, the chance of dry mouth may increase.2

What Causes Dry Mouth?
Many prescription medications can cause dry mouth, including: antihistamines, anticonvulsants, antidepressants, cardiovascular drugs, antiemedics, antipsychotics, sedatives and decongestants. Long term use of over-the-counter medications, surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy can also result in dry mouth. Radiation therapy in the head and neck area causes the most significant cases of dry mouth versus surgery and chemotherapy. After radiation therapy to the head and neck region, irradiated salivary glands produce little or no salivary secretions and can be a major discomfort for oral and pharyngeal cancer patients.
Diseases such as Sjogren’s Syndrome and connective tissue disease (rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus, systemic sclerosis, polymyosistis or mixed connective disease), and conditions like type I diabetes, multiple sclerosis, scleroderma, psoriasis, inflammatory bowel syndrome, cystic fibrosis and sarcoidosis may also cause or contribute to dry mouth.
Dry mouth can also be caused by simple nutritional deficiencies such as vitamin A and riboflavin deficiencies.

Symptoms of Dry Mouth
There are several symptoms present when dry mouth occurs:

  • Dryness in the mouth and throat area
  • Viscous saliva
  • Sore throat
  • Increase in plaque development
  • Bad breath
  • Mouth sores
  • Altered sense of taste
  • Tooth decay
  • Development of gum and/or periodontal disease
  • Difficulty in speaking, swallowing and talking

Treatment of Dry Mouth
If your dry mouth is caused by prescription medications, then your physician may want to reevaluate the types of medications you are taking and eliminate or adjust their dosage. Artificial saliva sprays can be purchased to help moisten the mouth and increase saliva flow. Your physician may also prescribe Pilocarpine, which can help stimulate salivary glands to produce saliva. Drinking extra water may also help.
Home remedies may include brushing the teeth at least twice daily with  a fluoride toothpaste, flossing daily, drinking water or unsweetened fluids with meals, using sugar-free mints or gum to stimulate saliva flow and trying not to mouth breathe.
Consult with your medical or dental professional if you are suffering from this condition and report all the medications you are taking along with the food and drinks you consumer to help them form a more complete diagnosis.

© 2010 Colgate-Palmolive Company


1 Ettinger RL:  Review: Xerostomia – A Symptom which acts like a disease.  Age Ageing 25:409-412, 1996.
2 Porter SR, Scully C, Hegarty AM:  An update of the etiology and management of xerostomia.  Oral Surg Oral med Oral Pathol oral Radiol Endod 97:28-46, 2004.