Dry Mouth: Causes, Associated Problems, and Treatment

Kenneth J. Wolnik | 04.28.2014

Dry Mouth: Causes, Associated Problems, and Treatment

Although it is a common myth that dry mouth is just par for the course as we age, this is not actually true. For the approximately 20 percent of older adults that experience excessive dry mouth, it can actually be a symptom of a medical condition or a side effect of certain medications, and it can lead to a host of dental problems.

Causes of Dry Mouth

In older adults, dry mouth is most commonly a side effect of certain medications, including:

  • Antihistamines
  • Blood pressure medications
  • Pain pills
  • Decongestants
  • Medications for Overactive Bladder
  • Antidepressants
  • Diuretics
  • Muscle relaxers
  • Medications for Parkinson’s disease
  • Medications for anxiety

Although medication side effects are most often the cause of dry mouth, certain medical conditions can also create dry mouth symptoms. Some of the most common diseases that can contribute to dry mouth include:

  • Autoimmune disorders such as Sjogren’s Syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, and systematic lupus erythematosus
  • Diabetes
  • Parkinson’s Disease
  • Stress
  • Anxiety
  • Depression

Dry mouth can also be attributed to dehydration, which is why it is so important to keep an eye on any older adults you care for, as dehydration is a common issue for the elderly.

Issues Associated with Dry Mouth

We need sufficient saliva in our mouths to wash away food debris and reduce plaque, which is why severe tooth decay and gum disease can occur if dry mouth is left untreated. According to the Oral Cancer Foundation, 30 percent of all tooth decay in older adults is caused by dry mouth.

Other health issues can also arise if dry mouth is left untreated. Common problems linked to dry mouth include:

  • Difficulty speaking
  • Difficulty chewing
  • Fungal infections in mouth
  • Hoarseness
  • Sore throat
  • Problems with swallowing food
  • Burning sensation in mouth
  • Dry nasal passages
  • Difficulty wearing dentures

Treating Dry Mouth

There are fortunately many things you can do to treat dry mouth and improve dental health, no matter your age. Your dentist or physician can prescribe medications to help increase saliva production, and regular dental checkups will help your dentist keep an eye out for any dental problems your dry mouth may be causing. There are also several things you can do at home to improve the saliva production in your mouth, including:

  • Chewing sugar free gum or sucking on sugar free mints. This will help fight dry mouth by stimulating saliva production. Look for products that contain xylitol, which is a sugar substitute that can actually help prevent cavities.
  • Brush and floss daily. Proper oral health hygiene will prevent the build up of plaque, which is the sticky layer of bacteria that promotes tooth decay and gum disease. Use a fluoride toothpaste to keep teeth strong.
  • Drink plenty of water. Staying well hydrated will increase saliva production and help keep you healthy in general. Be sure to drink water after eating, and avoid foods that stick to your teeth, such as raisins, crackers, candy, and pretzels.
  • Talk to your doctor or pharmacist. Discuss your dry mouth issues with your doctor or pharmacist and see if he or she recommends alternate medications that don’t cause dry mouth. They can also recommend products that keep your mouth moist.

For older adults, treating dry mouth is especially important as it can lead to problems with chewing, swallowing, and dentures. If you or an older adult that you care for struggles with excessive dry mouth, contact your dentist or physician right away to discuss treatment options.

About Kenneth J. Wolnik, DDS

Dr. Wolnik received his Doctor of Dental Surgery degree from the Case Western Reserve University School of Dental Medicine in 2002. For over ten years, he and his staff have been committed to providing outstanding oral health care to each and every patient seen in the office, and strive to respectfully provide expert care in all aspects of oral health, including cleanings, fillings, accident reconstruction, and complex esthetic rehabilitation. Located in Parma, Ohio, Kenneth J. Wolnik DDS, Inc. is known for exceptional service and community involvement.