Dry mouth: The causes, symptoms and treatments

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One in four older people impacted by dry mouth at some point in their lives, but treatment options are available. Source: Getty

Anyone who has lived with dry mouth will know how frustrating it can be. It’s a condition that impacts millions of people every day, with one in four older people impacted by dry mouth at some point in their lives.

The truth is that dry mouth is actually symptomatic of another underlying problems and presents because there is a lack of saliva in the mouth. Because there isn’t just one cause of the condition, it can be particularly difficult to treat, especially when people can’t understand what’s causing the dry mouth in the first place.

Some of the most common causes of dry mouth include medications, dehydration, infections, salivary duct obstructions, diseases, certain cancer treatments and mouth breathing.

Speaking to Starts at 60, dentist Luke Cronin said that around 600 different medications, including high blood pressure tablets, antidepressants and sedatives, that are known to cause dry mouth.

“Dry mouth can include thick saliva, a rough or dry tongue, the tongue sticking to the rough of the mouth, difficulty in chewing and swallowing, bad breath, oral thrush and loose-fitting dentures,” he said. “From an oral health perspective, dry mouth can have serious consequences for the health of your teeth.”

Firstly, saliva is vital for good oral health, acting as one of the mouth’s primary defences against decay. It helps attack the bacteria that cause decay and neutralises the acid found in plaque that can erode the tooth’s enamel.

Saliva can also fight off viruses and when levels are reduced, the mouth can become a breeding ground for harmful bacteria. It also makes it harder to chew or moisten food and can make it more difficult for some to communicate clearly.

If left untreated, dry mouth can also lead to decay of the gums or teeth. It typically begins along the gum line with the root decay, but can also present along the lower front teeth. It can also contribute to bad breath.

Treating dry mouth usually depends on figuring out what is causing the condition in the first place. Speaking to a GP, health professional or dentist is a great starting point, but there other things people can do in the meantime.

“Rather than cures, there are treatment options to address dry mouth such as changing medications if appropriate, saliva substitutes, dry mouth products with lubricants, surgery for blocked saliva ducts and other medical treatments,” Cronin explained.

It’s also important to be aware that some mouthwash products on the market can actually contribute to dry mouth. As such, it’s best to avoid products that contain alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, sodium bicarbonate and lemon and glycerine. Meanwhile, drinking water at least six times a day can also keep the mouth hydrated, while beverages high in sugar and caffeine should be avoided where possible.

In terms of breathing, it’s also better to breathe through the nose, while products such as humidifiers can increase moisture levels in the air to help lubricate the mouth. Surgery may also be an option in extreme cases, but the best starting point is to talk with a health professional to tackle what’s causing the dry mouth in the first place.

How do you prevent dry mouth? Is it an issue you or a loved one has ever had to live with?

Important information: The information provided on this website is of a general nature and information purposes only. It does not take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. It is not personalised health advice and must not be relied upon as such. Before making any decisions about your health or changes to medication, diet and exercise routines you should determine whether the information is appropriate in terms of your particular circumstances and seek advice from a medical professional.

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