What is dry mouth?
Dry mouth, or xerostomia, is a subjective condition that may be caused by a decrease in saliva production. It is estimated to affect millions of people in the United States, particularly women and the elderly.(1) Current research indicates that approximately one in four adults suffer from dry mouth, and this figure increases to 40 percent in populations over the age of 55.(2)
The role of saliva
Saliva is a vital component of such everyday processes as tasting, swallowing, speech, and digestion. It also helps defend against tooth decay and bacterial, fungal, and viral infections.(3) Saliva is over 99 percent water; other components include proteins and electrolytes. These components provide antimicrobial and buffering properties that protect teeth and oral soft tissues, enhance taste, faciliate speech and swallowing, and aid lubrication.(2)
Causes of dry mouth
Dry mouth occurs when the salivary glands in the mouth stop working normally. Medical conditions and diseases associated with dry mouth include the following:
• Sjögren's syndrome
• Diabetes mellitus
• Chronic active hepatitis
• Parkinson's disease
In addition, 64 percent of all dry mouth episodes are reportedly associated with medication use, and the chance of suffering from dry mouth increases with the number of medications being taken.(1,3) There are more than 400 medications that can adversely affect saliva production.(4) Common types of medication that can cause dry mouth include: diuretics, antidepressants, antihistamines, antihypertensives, sedatives, muscle relaxants, and certain cancer treatments.
Signs and symptoms
It is common for those who don't suffer from the problem to discount the effects of xerostomia, but for people living with the condition, the problems are very real and may include(1,4).
• Increased need to sip or drink fluids when swallowing
• Difficulty speaking
• Difficulty swallowing
• A burning or sore sensation in the mouth
• Inability to eat certain foods
• Diminished or altered sense of taste
• Increased susceptibility to oral infection
• Sleep interruptions due to thirst
• Oral yeast infections
• Difficulty wearing dentures
• Stale or bad breath
• Tooth decay
How to know if a patient is suffering
Research shows that dry mouth sufferers often don't mention the condition to their oral health-care providers. It is important for the dental professional to understand the causes and associated symptoms of dry mouth, and the clinical issues that are caused by it. It also is important to incorporate dry mouth assessment and diagnosis into everyday clinical practice. By proactively questioning patients, dental professionals can help identify susceptible patients in their practice, enabling tailored management to the needs of these sufferers, including the ideal requirements for dry mouth relief, protection of the oral cavity, and knowing when to refer the patient to a specialist.
A "yes" in response to any of these questions may indicate dry mouth:
• Does your mouth feel dry or uncomfortable?(1)
• Do you have difficulty swallowing dry foods?(1)
• Does your mouth feel dry when eating a meal?(1)
• Does the amount of saliva in your mouth seem to be too little, too much, or you don't notice it?(6)
Managing dry mouth symptoms
Dental professionals can recommend a number of measures to help patients with dry mouth be more comfortable:
• Avoidance of caffeinated drinks(5)
• Avoidance of tobacco products(5)
• Use of a salivary flow stimulant, such as nonacidic, sugar-free hard candy or sugar-free gum(1)
• Use of over-the-counter moisturizing products such as Oasis®
• Switching to an alternate medication(1)
• New Oasis Moisturizing Mouthwash and Oasis Mouth Moisturizing Spray, from the makers of Sensodyne®, provide moisturization to help manage dry mouth symptoms for up to two hours.(4)
• Patients can use the 16 oz. mouthwash in the morning and at bedtime as part of their daily oral care regimen. The 1 oz. spray provides fast, convenient relief and fits easily into a purse or briefcase for use away from home.
• A unique, tri-hydra formulation blends different polymers, humectants, and water for optimum moisture and a smooth mouth feel.
• Both the mouthwash and spray have an enamel-safe pH level and are safe for use with fluoride-treatment products. They also are sugar-free, alcohol-free, and do not contain any known allergens.
• Oasis products are sold over-the-counter and are available at pharmacies and food stores nationwide.
(1) Guggenheimer J, Moore PA. Xerostomia: etiology, recogntition and treatment. JADA. 2003;143:61-69.
(2) Data on file, GlaxoSmithKline Consumer Healthcare
(3) Wilkins, EM. Clinical Practice of the Dental Hygienist. 9th ed. Baltimore: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2005: 387-8.
(4) Data on file, GlaxoSmithKline Consumer Healthcare
(5) National Institutes of Health/National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. "Dry Mouth." 1999.
(6) Navazesh M. How can oral health care providers determine if patients have dry mouth? JADA 2003; 134: 613-18.
GlaxoSmithKline, makers of Sensodyne, Polident, and Super PoliGrip, is one of the world's leading research-based pharmaceutical and health-care companies and is committed to improving the quality of human life by enabling people to do more, feel better, and live longer.