Many older adults experience dry mouth (xerostomia, pronounced zero-STOW-me-ah). It can be caused by:
• Breathing through the mouth in dry environments
• Many common medications, particularly diuretics, antihistamines, and antidepressants
• Not drinking enough water throughout the day
• Gum disease
• Radiation therapy to the head or neck
• Autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, Sjogren’s Syndrome
Sjogren’s (show-gruns) syndrome is a condition that affects some older women. It causes dry mouth, itchy burning eyes, and vaginal dryness. Sjogren’s syndrome often accompanies rheumatoid arthritis or lupus.
Chronic lack of saliva can cause mouth problems such as tooth decay and bacterial infections.
• Drink two quarts of water a day.
• Humidify your home, especially the bedroom.
• Breathe through your nose rather than through your mouth.
• Avoid antihistamines, which dry the mucous membranes.
• Follow the prevention guidelines.
• Practice good dental care. Lack of saliva increases your risk of tooth decay. Regular brushing and flossing are very important to protect your teeth.
• Suck on sugarless candies or chew sugarless gum to increase saliva production.
• Add extra liquid to foods to make them easier to chew and swallow. Drink water with meals.
• Avoid caffeinated beverages, tobacco, and alcohol, all of which increase dryness in the mouth.
• Try saliva substitutes, such as Xerolube, which are available over-the-counter.
When to Call a Health Professional
• If dry mouth is causing difficulty in swallowing food.
• If dry mouth is accompanied by persistent sore throat.
• If dry mouth causes denture discomfort.
• If dry mouth may be linked to medications that you are taking.