Health article

5 common questions about dry mouth

Dry mouth is a common symptom of Sjögren’s syndrome, as well as other diseases like diabetes and HIV/AIDS. Without enough saliva, or spit, it can be difficult to break down food, swallow, and take care of your teeth.

The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research answers five common questions about dry mouth and Sjögren’s syndrome to help you navigate this tricky condition.

Is dry mouth a normal part of aging?

No, dry mouth is not part of the aging process itself. However, as people age, many may develop conditions that affect making saliva and they may take medications that can dry out the mouth.

What can cause dry mouth?

  • Medications. Dry mouth is a side effect of many types of medications, including those for depression, allergies and colds, and high blood pressure.
  • Dehydration. Dehydration happens when you lose more fluids than you take in. People of all ages can become dehydrated, but older adults are especially prone to it.  
  • Radiation therapy. Salivary glands can be damaged if they are exposed to radiation during cancer treatment.
  • Chemotherapy. Drugs used to treat cancer can make saliva thicker, causing the mouth to feel dry.
  • Injury to the head or neck. A head or neck injury can damage the nerves that tell salivary glands to make saliva.

What can I do about dry mouth?

Visit your dentist or doctor, who will try to determine the cause and may:

  • Suggest changing, or adjusting the dosage of, a medication. But do not make any changes to your medications before talking with your dentist or doctor.
  • Prescribe medications to increase saliva.
  • Recommend using artificial saliva.

Does dry mouth put me at risk for tooth decay?

Yes. Because saliva protects against tooth decay, having less saliva can put you at risk. Keep your teeth healthy by:

  • Brushing at least twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste.
  • Flossing regularly.
  • Visiting your dentist at least twice a year. You can ask your dentist if you need a prescription-strength fluoride gel or rinse to help prevent cavities.

If I have Sjögren’s, what can my dentist recommend?

To protect your teeth, your dentist may recommend:

  • Using fluoride pastes, mouth rinses, gels, foams, or varnishes
  • Drinking adequate amounts of water (8 to 12 eight-ounce glasses each day)
  • Stimulating saliva production using sugarless lozenges, chewing gums, candies containing xylitol, or medications such as pilocarpine and cevimeline
  • Applying chlorhexidine, which can kill bacteria
  • Using a calcium phosphate rinse to repair tooth enamel

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