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Dry Mouth Can Impact Your Health

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Dry Mouth Can Impact Your Health

May 10, 2024

Dry mouth is a common issue that can affect your quality of life. It is common among women and the older population, and can contribute to tooth decay, bad breath, and affect your sense of taste. Drinking lots of water does not always help, so what can you do about it? Kirtly Jones, MD, and Lea Erickson, MD, talk about what might be causing your dry mouth, and some home remedies and medications that can help remove that pillow tongue.

    This content was originally produced for audio. Certain elements such as tone, sound effects, and music, may not fully capture the intended experience in textual representation. Therefore, the following transcription has been modified for clarity. We recognize not everyone can access the audio podcast. However, for those who can, we encourage subscribing and listening to the original content for a more engaging and immersive experience.

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    Dr. Jones: Dry Mouth. Well, I have this problem and it makes me drink more and it's worse at night, so then I have to get up and go to the bathroom more. What is this all about?

    Today in the studio, we're going to be talking with Dr. Lea Erickson, who is the Associate Dean for Student Life at our dental school here. She is an expert on the issue of the older mouth, and that doesn't tell you how old I am, but about dry mouth in specifics. Welcome to The Scope studio, Dr. Erickson.

    Dr. Erickson: Thanks for the invitation.

    Prevalence and Causes of Dry Mouth in Women

    Dr. Jones: Sure. So let's talk about women's mouths with respect to dry mouth. So is it frequent? How often does it happen for women?

    Dr. Erickson: So dry mouth is really common among older people, not necessarily always older people, but see it much more commonly; it's usually associated with the use of medications. There are also some autoimmune diseases like Sjrogen's syndrome, again more common in women, that will have a dry mouth. A dry mouth can be really devastating for the patient having, or the individual having it. It's uncomfortable. One of the common complaints is I can't lick a stamp, I can't eat a cracker, I have to have liquids with my food, and I have to have sauces on my food so it really can affect my quality of life.

    Dry Mouth Impact on Quality of Life

    Dr. Jones: Does it affect your sense of taste as well or does it just dry mouth?

    Dr. Erickson: Oh, it absolutely affects the sense of taste. Food needs to be in solution to be tasted and so if it isn't in solution then the taste buds don't affect it, don't get it, and so people with dry mouth have much less pleasure in eating as well as just not tasting it.

    Dr. Jones: Well, we know that people when they get embarrassed or when people are giving a talk, there's always a glass of water for them. So dry mouth can be an acute response to nervousness or stress. And we know that there are some medications that make us get rid of fluid, like high blood pressure medications. So aside from diuretics, what other kinds of medications can lead to dry mouth?

    Medications for Dry Mouth

    Dr. Erickson: The list of medications, I think the last time I saw it, said 400 medications that cause dry mouth.

    Dr. Jones: Oh, that many? Okay. Good.

    Dr. Erickson: So any of the drugs that treat depression, again commonly used on adult patients. Pain medications are the worst so any of the narcotics.

    Dr. Jones: Narcotic pain medications.

    Dr. Erickson: Absolutely.

    Dr. Jones: And then so if we have people that need their medications or need their blood pressure or their anti-depressants, what kinds of things do we do for people?

    Dr. Erickson: So, what we need to do is either anything that will stimulate salivary flow, so you . . .

    Dr. Jones: Ooh, thinking about pizza does that for me.

    Dr. Erickson: Ahh, well, you know, thinking about food will

    Dr. Jones: Or lemons

    Dr. Erickson: . . . do it.

    Dr. Jones: Thinking about lemons. I'm thinking about lemons right now and that's doing it for me.

    Dr. Erickson: So, thinking is always a little bit useful, but most people are not going to walk around thinking about lemons and pizza. However, putting a sugar-free lemon candy in your mouth will stimulate salivary flow and keep it coming and not contribute to tooth decay.

    Dr. Erickson: Putting some gum in your mouth. Cinnamon is my favorite. Cinnamon can be irritating in a dry mouth, but whatever flavor does it for you. The citrus-flavored gums will do a wonderful job of stimulating salivary flow. And then you've got your natural saliva.

    Dr. Jones: Is there some way of making . . . is there a medication that makes more saliva?

    Dr. Erickson: There are two medications that are available. They both were tested on patients who've had cancer therapy, radiation to the glands, or Sjrogren's syndrome, but are often used for medication-induced dry mouth. Salogen, pilocarpine is one and cymatidine is the other one. They're not used terribly commonly because they also have the side effect of making people sweat. So they're less convenient, but among the very, very dry mouth, they're very effective and very helpful.

    Long-Term Risks and Complications of Dry Mouth

    Dr. Jones: So you have dry mouth, you say, "Well," you see everybody walking around with a bottle of water anyway. Now it's so acceptable to take your bottle of water with you. What are the side effects or what are the long-term risks of having a dry mouth?

    Dr. Erickson: So the water puts the moisture in your mouth, helps your comfort, but does not have an effect on the health of the teeth.

    Dr. Jones: Oh, so saliva has more in it than just water, huh?

    Dr. Erickson: Absolutely.

    Dr. Jones: Oh, tell us about that.

    Dr. Erickson: It has anti-microbial, it has ions in it that remineralize the teeth. So the teeth are in a constant flow of losing calcium and phosphate and regaining it. So they demineralize and remineralize and it's a constant flow back and forth. Without saliva, it tends to be just a flow outwards and puts the teeth at a very, very high risk for aggressive tooth decay that goes rapidly.

    Dr. Jones: Oh. Well, that's something new for me because I figured that it was just dry and now I think of saliva as being really an important part of my mouth's health.

    Dr. Erickson: It's absolutely a critical bodily fluid that has huge really therapeutic or functional benefits for the mouth.

    Seeking Professional Advice and Treatment for Dry Mouth

    Dr. Jones: So do you think the average family doctor or nurse practitioner knows about treatment? Let's say . . . women might not even talk to their doctor about treatment cause they think it's common, but if they do . . . should women who's got this problem go to their doctor? Should they talk to their dentist? Should they talk to everybody, their best friend?

    Dr. Erickson: Well, they probably should at least talk to their physician and their dentist about it. The physician in terms of whether are there some alternatives to the medications that might have less of an effect, but absolutely talk to the dentist, and get a prescription for a high-concentrated fluoride dentifrice to use that will help to increase the remineralization.

    Dr. Jones: Is that a toothpaste you're talking about, the dentifrice thing?

    Dr. Erickson: Yes, toothpaste, sorry. Yes, it's a 1.1% neutral sodium fluoride, it requires a prescription, a number of brands. And really, most dentists manage to carry it in the office and have it available.

    Dr. Jones: So and so brushing and flossing's more important in an effort to try to prevent tooth decay.

    Dr. Erickson: Yes, and the patients that have good salivary flow can get away with doing less . . . well, get away with being a little more cavalier about their oral health care. Somebody with a dry mouth has to do such an excellent job of cleaning that they leave no plaque.

    Dr. Jones: Okay. All you flossers and all you brushers who are of a certain age, if you have dry mouth, you should be talking with your clinician about causes that might be changeable if it's your prescriptions, about new therapies that might be helpful for you, but get your teeth checked out and keep them healthy and strong.


    updated: May 10, 2024
    originally published: September 3, 2015