More than 50 percent of older adults are likely to experience the discomfort and unpleasant sensation of dry mouth. Oral health expert Dr. Adina Jucan provides facts on what causes the condition and steps you can take to ward it off.
Dry mouth, known technically as xerostomia, is somewhat common, especially among adults ages 65 and older. Although this sensation varies from person to person, some find the discomfort troublesome enough to seek medical treatment.
What’s behind dry mouth and why does it tend to impact older adults more frequently?
Medications, and a rise in their use among older adults, may be a significant culprit. In fact, more than 500 prescription and over-the-counter medications are linked to dry mouth. Statistics point to an association between the number of drugs a person takes and the incidence and severity of his or her dry mouth. More than half the adults who are age 65 or older have three or more medical conditions, and are likely taking some medications as a result. And the average nursing home resident takes between five and eight medications each day.
Other causes of dry mouth include:
- Radiation treatment for head and neck cancers,
- Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes,
- Nutritional deficiencies.
Beyond discomfort, dry mouth can trigger other health problems, such as dental cavities, a distortion of taste, and fungal or bacterial infections in the mouth. Older adults with dry mouth may also complain of poorly fitting dentures and difficulty swallowing.
If you’re experiencing the unpleasant and irritating sensation of dry mouth, try this approach to prevention and treatment:
- Practice optimal oral hygiene, which includes brushing and flossing your teeth at least twice a day and visiting your dentist regularly, as he or she recommends.
- If you wear dentures, brush and rinse them after every meal and use a prescription-strength fluoride gel at bedtime.
- Avoid citrus juices, foods with high sugar or salt content, and rinses with alcohol.
- Use lip moisturizers and salivary substitutes, which may help minimize symptoms.
Remember that taking good care of your teeth and gums, monitoring your diet, and using effective health care products may help wash away that unpleasant dry-mouth feeling.
Adina Jucan, D.D.S., is clinical director for Eastman Dental at Highland. She has extensive experience treating older adults and is an active member of the Special Care Dentistry Association and the American Geriatric Society. For more information, call (585) 341-6888, or click here.