Imagine the sensation of cotton in your mouth or having a mouthful of peanut butter. For many seniors, dry mouth is a condition they have had to adjust to as their new normal.
Dr. Dawn Reynolds, a dentist with Reynolds Family Dentistry in Clinton, said she sees it often in her senior patients.
“Usually it is a side effect to a certain medication they are using,” she explained. “It isn’t necessarily due to age but rather either a condition they are facing that we need to get to the root of or because of their medication.”
Dr. Reynolds said that dry mouth can be a side effect of decongestant medications, antidepressants, medications for diabetes and Parkinson’s, as well as a side effect of chemotherapy and radiation.
“The older you are, the more likely it is that you have experienced a condition that would require you take medications that cause dry mouth,” she said.
She also explained that there is a common autoimmune disorder that causes severe dry mouth called Sjogren’s syndrome, which will also dry out the eyes.
“Basically, Sjogren syndrome will produce extra antibodies that will attack the glands that produce saliva and tears,” Dr. Reynolds said.
If she suspects Sjogren’s syndrome, she will refer the patient for testing.
“It is important to know the signs and symptoms of Sjogren’s as a dentist. I once had a patient that was experiencing dry mouth, and, because she came to see me, we were able to get her a proper diagnosis for treatment.”
Dr. Reynolds explained that saliva washes away and breaks down particles. When there is a decrease in saliva production, bacteria will build up, which leads to tooth decay.
“I could have a patient with no cavities and a clean bill of dental health and then six months later come in with several cavities because of dry mouth,” she lamented.
She also explained that seniors with partial dentures could experience pain because saliva acts as a lubricant.
“They won’t get good suction if they have dry mouth and they could develop sore spots,” she said.
Dry mouth can cause a bacterial infection called thrush or burning tongue syndrome, where the patient has a sensitive tongue, and it can also increase the possibility of choking.
Dr. Reynolds said there is hope if you are experiencing dry mouth.
“Go see your dentist for routine dental care,” she urged. “You will want to get checked for cavities.”
She suggested that people with dry mouth sip on water all day because they will be prone to dehydration. She also said to avoid caffeine, soft drinks and alcohol, as all three can cause dry mouth.
She mentioned that chewing sugarless gum can increase salivary production, as can sugarless lemon, citrus or cinnamon drops.
She said to look for mouthwash that is alcohol free and to use toothpaste with fluoride.
“I also suggest getting a humidifier to have on during the night while you sleep,” she added.
For many, dry mouth may not seem serious, but Dr. Reynolds warned that it could drastically change if you don’t seek assistance.
“One patient had dentures but got dry mouth and couldn’t wear them because they hurt her and then she couldn’t eat,” she said. “It was very serious for her.”
For more information on Reynolds Family Dentistry in Clinton, call 864-938-6002.
By Theresa Stratford