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Xerostomia-a fancy name for dry mouth

July 29, 2011

Between 30 and 40% of adults have xerostomia or dry mouth. Its prevalence increases with age and is caused mostly by medications or systemic disease.
Dry mouth can’t be solved by having a drink of water and there are a lot of problems that may result from having it. The main cause of dry mouth is taking a medication that interferes with the normal production of saliva. Saliva is critical to the overall health of a person’s mouth. Saliva does something fancy called “buffering” that regulates or modifies the pH in your mouth. Think back to high school chemistry. pH deals with acids and bases. The bacteria in your mouth thrive in an acid environment and the enamel on your teeth break down the more acid the conditions. With less saliva present, this leads to erosion, cavities, and sensitivity – all bad stuff. Additionally, saliva helps to lubricate your mouth when you eat so crusty Italian bread doesn’t scrape your cheek.
So – what causes dry mouth? And is there a way to reduce it?
Causes of dry mouth
1. Medications are the primary cause of dry mouth and considering that a Google search I did reported that Americans filled 11.5 prescriptions per capita and spent over $291 billion on prescription medications, it is safe to say that this is a big problem for the public.
2. Systemic conditions are the next thing that cause dry mouth. Systemic means it affects your whole body and in certain diseases, the mouth is also affected. Sjogren’s syndrome, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and high blood pressure have all been linked to dry mouth.
3. Aging and hormonal changes.
4. Damage to the salivary glands – this happens primarily due to head and neck radiation and chemotherapy from cancer treatment.
I’ve included an abridged list of some medications and their uses that cause dry mouth.
Anti-anxiety – Ativan, Valium, Vistaril, Xanax
Anti-convulsant – Lamictal, Neurontin, Tegretol
Anti-depressant – Celexa, Effexor, Paxil, Prozac, Tofranil, Wellbutrin, Zoloft
Anti-histamine – Allegra, Benadryl, Claritin, Vistaril, Zyrtec
High blood pressure – Accupril, Altace, Cardura, Coreg, Lopressor, Norvasc, Tenormin
Anti-inflammatory – Dolobid, Motrin, Naprosyn
Cholesterol reducting – Lipitor
Diuretic – Diuril, Dyazide, Lasix
How to treat dry mouth and prevent problems that result from dry mouth
As previously mentioned, just rinsing with or drinking water is not enough to solve dry mouth. While there are medications you can take to help stimulate saliva production, simpler methods include:
1. Toothpastes or rinses specifically for dry mouth. Biotene or Oasis are great products that help lubricate the mouth.
2. Using lozenges like Salese with Xylitol. These are placed in your cheek and allowed to dissolve creating lubrication in your mouth, especially helpful when used 20-30 minutes prior to eating.
3. Using a fluoride toothpaste or rinse at home to protect and strengthen at risk enamel.
4. Have fluoride treatments when you visit the dentist.
5. Using sugar free mints and gums.
6. Drinking water or sugar-free drinks – this is a short term fix, but it helps, especially when you are eating.
7. Decrease alcohol and caffeine consumption.
8. Avoid salty, spicy, hard foods.
Keeping dental appointments to monitor the effects of dry mouth is important. It is amazing how quickly deterioration of enamel can happen in an acidic, dry environment. Meticulous home care and regular dental checkups and cleanings will allow you and your dentist to keep track of your dry mouth and the effects it may be having on your dental health.
If you have any additional questions about dry mouth, please contact me at drallison@adamsdentalnj.com or visit the American Dental Association’s website at: http://ada.org/3014.aspx?currentTab=1.

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