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You don’t have to live with dry mouth

Does your mouth often feel as dry as the Sahara Desert? You may be experiencing what doctors call "dry mouth." This happens when your mouth doesn't produce enough saliva. Dry mouth, or cottonmouth, as it's sometimes called, is common among older adults.

While it may not seem very serious, a lack of saliva can be more than just uncomfortable. It can make tasting, chewing, and swallowing food difficult. It can also lead to problems such as tooth decay and gum disease.1 You can learn more about the role saliva plays in your dental health here.

Dry mouth can affect your quality of life as well. It can cause bad breath, cracked lips, and mouth sores, which can make it painful for you to eat and drink.2 It can also cause a sore throat and hoarseness, making it difficult to speak.3

Let’s review some of the ways dry mouth affects senior dental care and what you can do about it.

Dry mouth and dental health care

As we age, our bodies naturally produce less saliva, but we need enough of it to keep our mouths healthy. Saliva washes away food and bacteria and helps neutralize the acids that cause tooth decay. It also helps your body absorb minerals like calcium and fluoride, which keep teeth and bones strong.

Aging is not the only cause of dry mouth. Many medicines can dry out the mouth, as well. In fact, one of the side effects of common medications for high blood pressure, depression, and pain is dry mouth. Even some over-the-counter medications for colds and allergies can cause drying. If you think your dry mouth is due to one of your medications, talk with your doctor. But never stop taking your medicine without talking to your doctor first.

Relief from dry mouth

So, how can you get relief from dry mouth? Here are a few tips:

Drink water

Drinking plenty of water throughout the day is one of the best ways to help your body produce more saliva. Plain old tap water with fluoride is your best and least expensive option. If you find it hard to drink large amounts of water at once, simply keep some nearby and sip it often throughout the day.

Chew sugarless gum or mints

Both help produce saliva as you chew. If possible, use sugarless products that contain xylitol, a natural sweetener that doesn't contribute to tooth decay.4

Use a saliva substitute or an oral moisturizer

If your dry mouth is severe, there are several over-the-counter remedies available that can help relieve your symptoms. Ask your doctor or dentist for a recommendation.

Use a humidifier to add moisture to the air

Is the air in your home too dry? Using a humidifier at night while you sleep or even during the day can make a difference. This is particularly helpful if you tend to breathe through your mouth.

Avoid certain beverages

The caffeine in coffee, tea, and other drinks can dry out your mouth. Any liquids containing alcohol — including some mouthwashes and rinses — can dry your mouth as well, so try to avoid them. The same goes for sugary and carbonated beverages.

Avoid foods that contribute to dry mouth

What you eat can make dry mouth worse. Spicy, sugary, acidic, and salty foods all contribute to dry mouth. If you eat these foods, try drinking water with your meal to help keep your mouth moist.

Don't smoke or chew tobacco

In addition to being bad for your health, tobacco dries out the mouth and increases your risk of gum disease, tooth decay, and oral cancer.5 This is true for every type of tobacco, including cigarettes, pipes, cigars, and chewing tobacco.6

Get regular dental checkups

Be sure to schedule dental services like your twice-yearly checkups and cleanings. It's good for your dental health and a great way to get answers to any questions you may have.

Remember, dental care for seniors remains important. Age and medication make you more likely to develop dry mouth, which can cause minor problems like bad breath, as well as more serious issues like tooth decay.

Try these simple tips to relieve your dry mouth and maintain your oral health.

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