Clinician's Corner: Tips for dealing with dry mouth

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August 7th, 2020

As we continue to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, many senior citizens have not been able to leave their homes and have been unable to receive visits from dental care professionals. This is a significant concern as 1 in 5 seniors have dry mouth. Dry mouth is not having enough saliva to protect and moisturize our mouth. A dry mouth can quickly lead to serious gum disease, cavities and oral infections!

Prescription bottle with warning label that reads: May Cause Dry Mouth

Causes of dry mouth:

Dry mouth is a known side effect of over 500 medications. A few examples are medications to treat high blood pressure, antidepressants, antihistamines, sedatives and decongestants.

Some diseases cause dry mouth such as diabetes, Sjogren’s Syndrome, Parkinson’s Disease, HIV/AIDS, Alzheimer’s Disease, head and neck radiation and chemotherapy for cancer. Smoking, mouth breathing and dehydration are significant contributors to the diagnosis of dry mouth.

Signs to look for:

  • Dry, irritated cracked lips or the corners of the mouth
  • Cracked and reddened tongue surface
  • Trouble eating or swallowing
  • Problems keeping dentures in place
  • Red, swollen gums
  • Bad breath
  • Thick, ropey saliva

What to do:

Brush teeth with a soft toothbrush and fluoridated toothpaste twice a day. Use floss or an interdental cleaner once a day to clean between the teeth. Use dry mouth products such as Biotene. Consider a prescription strength fluoride toothpaste (i.e. Prevident 5000), and if you use a mouthwash, make sure it is alcohol free.

To keep the mouth moist during the day, sip water, use artificial saliva substitutes, sugar free lozenges or Xylitol gum to help stimulate saliva. See your dental office or nursing home dental care team as soon as possible. You can also consult your doctor to review current medications.

Mouthwash bottle mint flavor

What to avoid:

  • Mouth rinses that contain alcohol
  • Sticky, acidic or sugar-filled candy, gum and snacks
  • Alcohol
  • Carbonated beverages
  • Caffeine
  • Tobacco