How to Deal With Dry Mouth

One of the most challenging situations in dentistry is treating a patient with dry mouth. First it is important to recognize the functions of saliva in the mouth. 

Saliva is used to help digest our foods, protect our tissues, buffer the acids produced during eating, and wash the bacteria and food particles from our teeth. When saliva decreases, we find decay rates increase dramatically, dentures start to fit poorly and patients begin complaining of soreness in the mouth. It is absolutely critical you mention any of these maladies to your dentist so they can be treated accordingly. Many patients never link a sudden surge in dental work to their dry mouth until it is too late.

Dry mouth has a variety of sources:

  • Medications, antihistamines during allergy season, antidepressants, chemotherapy/radiation treatments. Approximately 400 medications are known to cause dry mouth. So it’s more common than most of us think.
  • Age. Over 65 years of age salivary gland function markedly diminishes with eyes, nostrils, and the mouth often drying out
  • Lack of hydration. Long runs, hours on the treadmill, and extensive periods of exercise can contribute to dry mouth.
  • Sleep. During our sleeping hours, the body greatly diminishes salivary flow because we are not eating anything. When we go to bed what is on our teeth when we fall asleep remains largely unchanged when we wake up. That is why the most important time of the day to brush and floss is right before we go to bed. Ideally, I recommend not rinsing, but instead spitting out the excess a few times and allowing the dry mouth to be used for our advantage by allowing the fluoride to stick on the teeth for a longer period of time.
  • Certain diseases such as Sjögren's syndrome, HIV, Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, rheumatoid arthritis and stroke can also contribute to dry mouth.

Treatments can be very simple to very complex, but it’s important to first figure out the source of the problem. If it is allergy season, one can discontinue oral antihistamines and use nasal corticosteroids and antihistamine drops for the eyes instead. Sometimes you can change an antidepressant and that solves the problem. Sometimes just recommending the patient drink more water during the day works.

Over-the-counter products like Biotene and Oasis are good first steps for many. If that fails to solve the problem, prescription products like Evoxac may help to stimulate salivary flow. Sugar-free chewing gum with xylitol can also be used as a supplement.

In unusually difficult cases, MI Paste, or pHluorigel may do the trick. These products are available at most dentists’ office and can help with dry mouth by superhardening the teeth with fluoride and calcium while also making the pH more basic. Many dentists recommend thin trays that can be worn during night to really let it soak in the teeth to protect them. MI paste and pHluorigel also help with any sensitive teeth.

And there are some things you can do to help dry mouth. •Before retiring for the night, use a humidifier to make the mornings a little easier. This will keep the oral tissues from not drying out as much during sleep.

  • Avoid caffeine.
  • Quit smoking.

Many times the dry mouth goes away in a short time, depending on the cause. Other times it may be chronic. It’s not easy, but it can be done effectively. Just remember it is critically important that if you are suffering from dry mouth, consult your dentist who will be able to help you figure out the source of the problem and recommend treatment.