Who knew that having a dry mouth would be more than just uncomfortable? Xerostomia is the posh word for it. But more to the point what causes it, why is it such a problem and how can we manage it? To cut a long story short, saliva rocks. It keeps our mouths lubricated, contains some good (and admittedly not so good) bacteria and enzymes. It helps us to swallow and speak, and protects our teeth from decay. Oh, and for those of us who it concerns, it even keeps our dentures where they should be. It is something that we take for granted. But for those of us that have no, or a reduced saliva flow, life can be…well, pretty miserable to be honest.
Xerostomia is actually a symptom, not a disease. Reduced or non existent saliva flow can be due to a number of reasons. Also, it can be temporary, permanent or reversible. Head and neck cancers treated with radiotherapy can cause permanent damage to the salivary glands. However possibly the most common reason for temporary salivary reduction is a combination of different medications which can range from antihistamines to blood pressure medications.
A lot of our patients present with a dry mouth and most of the time it is us and not them that notice. Mirrors sticking to the cheek, mouth sores, halitosis and evidence of decay on the root surface of teeth can be tell tale signs of a dry mouth. It’s quite sad really that these patient struggle daily with what they often attribute to just getting older.
As dental care professionals it is our job to not only note the presence of a dry mouth, but be able to provide advice and suggestions for our patients to improve their quality of life and prevent dental complications. Dietary advice should be given particularly looking at reducing frequency of sugar consumption and reduction of acidic drinks/foods. Also patient’s can be advised to reduce caffeine and tobacco use which both exacerbate dry mouth. We can offer regular dental prophylaxis (cleaning) and apply fluoride varnish to the teeth. We can suggests saliva replacements or substitutes and advise the use of xylitol sugar free gum. Dentists in some circumstances can also prescribe saliva substitutes and replacements.