Dry Mouth

Dry Mouth is a result of reduced or absent saliva flow. Up to 40% of elderly people complain of dry mouth.

Dry mouth is a common complaint for older people and for many, is a side effect of medication. The lack of silava can be very uncomfortable, making it hard to chew and swallow food. It can also lead to irritated or infected oral tissue, and increase the risk of bad breath, cavities and gum disease.

There are many causes and these might include the following:

A side effect of many medications is reduced flow of saliva, e.g. those used to control high blood pressure, anti-parkinson drugs and anti-anxiety agents.

Excessive intake of caffeine which is found in coffee, tea, chocolate and cola drinks draws fluid from the body and reduces saliva.

Tobacco and alcohol also dry out the mouth.

Working in a dry environment and not rehydrating often enough.

Some specific diseases or conditions such as Sjogren's syndrome, diabetes.

Radiotherapy treatment for head and neck cancer.

What are the symptoms of Dry Mouth?

Symptoms include:

  • A sticky, dry feeling in the mouth.
  • Trouble chewing, swallowing, tasting, or speaking.
  • A burning feeling in the mouth.
  • A dry feeling in the throat.
  • Cracked lips.
  • A dry, rough tongue.
  • Mouth sores.
  • An infection in the mouth.

The feeling of a dry mouth is a particularly uncomfortable one and often gives rise to difficulty in speaking and eating and can have a major negative impact on the quality of life. Reduced saliva flow can give rise to an increased incidence of tooth decay, gum disease and also an increase in oral infection, such as candida albicans. Your dentist may recommend the use of fluoride mouthrinses to prevent decay/control plaque.

Following radiotherapy to treat cancer in the head and neck area, salivary flow can stop altogether either long term or for periods of up to three months. It is essential that people about to undergo such treatment have active management of their oral health to prevent the problems associated with dry mouth. 

If you have a constant dry mouth, you should consult your dentist to find the cause.

Management of dry mouth

People with dry mouth lose the protective effect of saliva in preventing tooth decay and trauma to the oral mucosa.

Saliva substitutes can be useful if used just before eating, at night if you wake up because of dry mouth, or first thing in the morning. These are generally available in pharmacies. It's good to be mindful not to suck sweets regularly e.g. mints, boiled sweets. Although this may give temporary relief it will cause severe dental caries (decay) in the absence of saliva. Chewing sugar-free gum which contains xylitol increases saliva production relieves dry mouth. Limit the frequent consumption of drinks sweetened with sugar e.g. soft drinks, sugary tea, and sugar-free drinks, as their acid content may cause tooth erosion. Sipping water (tap water contains fluoride which will help to prevent tooth decay) more frequently, and with your meal. This will make chewing and swallowing easier. It may also improve the taste of food. Try to limit drinks with caffeine such as tea or coffee, as caffeine can dry out the mouth. Accupuncture is an alternative therapy that may also bring relief for dry mouth.