Dry mouth a common problem among people over 50
Bad breath, mouth pain, fungus infections in the mouth, sore throat, and sticky saliva which can cause difficulty speaking and eating all are signs of dry mouth.
Besides being a nuisance, dry mouth sets the stage for cavities to form because saliva helps keep teeth healthy.
Dentists say dry mouth is most commonly seen in patients 50 and over, and is primarily caused by medications, especially when patients take multiple prescriptions and over-the-counter drugs.
“High blood pressure medications, decongestants, and antihistamines are just a small portion of the medications that cause dry mouth,” dentist Nolan Andrews with R2 Centers for Dentistry in Marion said. “Many people don’t realize that saliva actually helps keep the cavities away,” Andrews said. “With less saliva, there will be more bacterial plaque and tartar, which means more cavities and gum disease. It’s very detrimental to your oral health if you don’t have enough saliva.”
Lack of saliva can sometimes be symptomatic of an underlying disease, such as lupus, Parkinson’s, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, and others.
Brian Kynaston, with Hillsboro Dental Care, agreed that most of the patients he sees with dry mouth are 50 and above and take multiple medications.
“I would say the number one cause is people who take many medications,” Kynaston said. “The other thing we see as a cause is radiation treatment, especially with oral cancer.”
Radiation treatments for head and neck cancers cause dry mouth as well, Kynaston said.
Peabody dentist Heshun Chen said he doesn’t see a lot of patients who ask for treatment for dry mouth, but it can sometimes lead to other disease, such as damage to the salivary glands.
Sometimes life habits such as smoking and chewing tobacco cause dry mouth, Chen said.
The problem can cause painful sores in the mouth.
Andrews said over-the-counter remedies, such as biotene rinse, home remedies and products containing xylitol can relieve symptoms of dry mouth.
“Every case is different and you should ask your dentist what they can do or recommend to help your dry mouth,” Andrews said.
Prescription medications for dry mouth are available, but these medications tend to cause unwanted side effects, so Andrews doesn’t like to prescribe them.
“Once you start getting a lot of decay, you start looking at what needs to be done,” he said. “What’s really difficult, especially with seniors, is you get this rampant decay and they can end up getting dentures placed.”
Prevident 5000 is a prescription toothpaste that can be used at night to ease dry mouth, Kynaston said.
“We have a lot of adults we’re using that with,” he said.
Kynaston said he advises people who have dry mouth to see their dentist every three months.
Last modified Aug. 17, 2017