Dry MouthWhat causes mouth dryness?

Dry mouth is a common complaint, which affects people more often as they grow older. Most people experience dryness of the mouth for short periods when they are anxious or dehydrated. However for some, dry mouth is a persistent problem.

The most common cause of dry mouth is medication. Many prescription medicines cause dry mouth as a side effect. Some medical conditions, such as diabetes and viral infections can cause the mouth to be dry. A condition called Sj√∂gren’s Syndrome is also common and causes dry mouth as well as dry eyes. This condition may occur on its own, or in combination with auto-immune conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, thyroid disease and some forms of liver disease. Dryness is a common feature of radiotherapy to the head and neck. In some people, the mouth feels dry even though no obvious cause exists.

What are the effects of dry mouth?

Saliva is an important part of a healthy mouth, and not having enough can cause problems. The feeling of having a dry mouth is uncomfortable on its own. It may make speaking at length difficult and it may be hard to eat some food. When the lining of the mouth gets dry it can break down more easily, causing mouth ulcers. Infections of the lining of the mouth, especially those caused by fungi, are also more common in dry mouth. Infection can also occur in the salivary glands, causing pain and swelling around the face.
The teeth rely on saliva to help prevent tooth decay. When the mouth is dry, tooth decay occurs more often and progresses more quickly.

Some causes of dry mouth can increase the chance of developing tumours of the salivary glands. For this reason, any persistent swelling of the face or mouth should be checked by a specialist.

How is it treated?

The first step in treating dry mouth is identifying a cause and if possible, treating or removing it. In many cases, the cause of dry mouth cannot be identified or removed. In this case, treatments are aimed at making the mouth feel more comfortable and preventing dental decay. Pilocarpine (Salagen) is a medicine, which can stimulate the production of more saliva. This medicine only works when some saliva is being produced in the mouth. It is also associated with many side effects.

What can I use to help?

Some products, which are available for the treatment of dry mouth are listed below:
Avoiding tooth decay and infections

When the normal amount of saliva is not being produced, the risk of tooth decay and mouth infections is increased. A high concentration fluoride toothpaste such as Duraphat 5000 is recommended and is available on prescription. Curasept ADS 205 mouthwash is a combination antiseptic and fluoride mouthwash, which should be used every day. It is available from your Pharmacy or can be ordered online (www.sordfishmedical.ie). Avoiding sugary snacks and drinks is essential for those with reduced saliva.

Making the mouth feel less dry

Numerous mouthwashes, gels and sprays are available to provide temporary relief from the dry sensation. There is no evidence that any one of these products is superior to another. Many people find that frequent sips of water, using sugar free chewing gums, lozenges and pastilles are simple alternatives to these products.
A range of mouthwashes, gels and sprays available from pharmacies.
A range of mouthwashes, sprays, gels, toothpastes and chewing gum. www.biotene.com
Saliva Orthana
A spray and chewing gum. Available at www.aspharma.co.uk
A range of sprays, mouthwashes, gels, toothpastes, lozenges and chewing gums. Available from pharmacies or from www.swordfishmedical.ie.
A range of of chewing gums, lozenges, gels, sprays and rinses based on green tea.
KY Jelly
A simple water based lubricant available from most pharmacies.
This is a custom made device, which looks like a mouth guard. It sits over the lower teeth and produces a low grade electrical pulse, which stimulates the lining of the mouth. Although you are unable to feel the pulse, when used a number of times per day ,this device can stimulate the production of increased saliva using a process called neuroelectrostimulation. Information about the device can be found at www.saliwell.com.