Every once in a while we all experience a dry mouth, especially when we are nervous, upset or under stress. However, for some people, dry mouth, or xerostomia, is a common condition that is caused by lack of saliva in the mouth and is thought to affect at least 1 in 4 of the population, with 60% being in the 60+ age group, and over 33% going undiagnosed. If dry mouth is not treated it can be highly uncomfortable and can impact on oral health.
Saliva plays several important roles when it comes to keeping our mouths healthy. In addition to its role in digestion, saliva helps to cleanse the oral cavity, facilitate oral processing and swallowing of food, maintaining a neutral pH and preventing tooth demineralisation.
The Main Causes Of Dry Mouth
- Lack of hydration
- Snoring/mouth breathing
- Some long term health conditions
- Taking multiple medications - more than 500 medications, both prescription and over the counter, have dry mouth as a side effect
- Head and neck cancer and cancer therapy – dry mouth is one of the most common complications during and after radiotherapy and treatment.
Who Is Susceptible To Dry Mouth?
People with diabetes
Patients with high blood sugar levels are prone to experiencing dry mouth and it can lead to further oral health complications.
People having treatment for cancer
Patients who are having treatment for cancer, in particular head and neck cancer, are at significant risk of developing dry mouth. Dry mouth is one of the most common complications during and after radiotherapy treatment.
People living with dementia
One of the main side effects of the medication patients with dementia and Alzheimer take is dry mouth. Common medications with this side effect include; antidepressants, antipsychotics and sedatives.
People on multi-medication (polypharmacy)
More than 500 medications, both over the counter and prescription, have xerostomia as a side effect and the prevalence increases with each medication taken. More than 3 medications taken in combination can lead to a 50% risk of developing dry mouth.
People with depression
Antidepressants are one of the groups of medication most commonly associated with dry mouth.
People with Auto-immune diseases
Patients with autoimmune diseases, such as Sjögren’s syndrome, may suffer from dry mouth. This is due to their body’s immune system attacking glands that secrete fluid, especially the saliva glands.
How Does Dry Mouth Impact Oral Health?
- Difficulty speaking and swallowing - due to a lack of moisture and lubrication in the oral cavity.
- Gum disease - with a reduced salivary flow bacteria and plaque will not be flushed from the mouth and is more likely to attack the teeth and gums.
- Tooth decay - saliva helps maintain a neutral pH in the mouth and aids with food clearance. A lack of saliva can cause difficulties in buffering the acids caused by bacteria or ingested foods resulting in tooth decay
- Viscous or sticky/stringy saliva - due to a lack of moisture and lubrication in the oral cavity.
- A change in sense of taste - saliva plays a role in our experience of taste so people with dry mouth may find a change in their sense of taste, growing an intolerance towards spicy, salty, or sour foods and drinks.
- A dry or burning feeling in the mouth, lips and throat
- Cracked lips - a lack of moisture can cause sores on the lips, split skin at the corners of the lips and cracked dry lips.
- A rough tongue - moisture of the tongue is maintained by the saliva. However, with a lack of salivary flow, the tongue can become extremely dry, sore and red causing discomfort and even a burning feeling.
- Severe halitosis - due to the lack of cleansing action provided by normal salivary volume and flow, patients can experience bad breath.
- Mouth sores
The Symptoms Can Have A Dramatic Effect On A Person's Wellbeing
Why Isn't Water The Best Relief Method?
One of the most frequently used saliva substitutes is water and whilst it can be used as a saliva replacement, it doesn't moisten and lubricate the oral mucosa and teeth adequately - something which is critical to provide relief for dry mouth. In addition, saliva plays a larger role in the mouth than just providing water.
As dry mouth is rarely associated with systemic dehydration, consuming large quantities of water does not overcome it, but merely provides temporary relief from the symptoms of dry mouth. People who compensate through frequent sipping of water, particularly at night, often report a decrease in sleep quality due to the increased frequency of urination.
Furthermore, drinking excessive amounts of water could potentially promote the loss of electrolytes and result in electrolyte imbalance.
Here Are Our Top Tips To Help You To Manage Dry Mouth
- Maintain good oral hygiene
- Improve hydration take regular sips of cold water or suck on ice cubes
- Use water-based mouth gels, sprays and non-foaming toothpaste
How Can Oralieve Help?
All our Oralieve products contain bioactive ingredients and enzymes which supplement the natural systems in saliva to provide effective and lasting relief. Oralieve products help promote a healthy, comfortable mouth.
Having a dry mouth may mean a person’s mouth can be painful when using products containing strong flavours or detergents. Many oral hygiene products contain Sodium Laurel Sulphate SLS, which can irritate oral tissues. Oralieve products do not contain SLS, alcohol or strong flavours and have been tested and developed with dry mouth sufferers.
Click on an Oralieve product to reveal more information on how it can help the people you support with dry mouth.