As the population in Suffolk County ages, we are seeing more and more older people in our practice. Many are taking medications that affect their oral health. Dry mouth, or xerostomia, is a common side effect of many commonly prescribed drugs. A recent article in the New York Times asked “What is it about so many medications that causes dryness, especially in the mouth?” Drugs that can cause dry mouth include the benzodiazepines, antidepressants, especially selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, some blood sugar reducing oral medications, respiratory agents, quinine, drugs that treat high blood pressure, especially calcium channel blockers and diuretics, drugs that treat excess urine flow, some nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, opioids, glucosamine supplements, and the magnesium hydroxide in milk of magnesia. The effect may be amplified if a person is taking more than one of the above medications.
The drying mechanism of the involved drugs is not fully understood. Some drugs may suppress the action of receptors on nerve cells in various glands, including the salivary glands, that produce fluids. The drying effect can also involve other mucus membranes, like around the eyes and in the digestive system. Dryness in the mouth can lead to decay and periodontal disease. When I observe dry mouth, I discuss the importance of hydration, meticulous home care and regular dental visits.
To relieve your dry mouth:
Chew sugar-free gum or suck on sugar-free hard candies to stimulate the flow of saliva.
Limit your caffeine intake because caffeine can make your mouth drier.
Don’t use mouthwashes that contain alcohol because they can be drying.
Stop all tobacco use if you smoke or chew tobacco.
Sip water regularly.
Try over-the-counter saliva substitutes — look for products containing xylitol, such as Mouth Kote or Oasis Moisturizing Mouth Spray, or Biotene Oral Balance.
Try a mouthwash designed for dry mouth — especially one that contains xylitol, such as Biotene Dry Mouth Oral Rinse or ACT Total Care Dry Mouth Mouthwash, which also offer protection against tooth decay.
Avoid using over-the-counter antihistamines and decongestants because they can make your symptoms worse.
Breathe through your nose, not your mouth.
Add moisture to the air at night with a room humidifier
Avoid sugary or acidic foods and drinks because they increase your risk of tooth decay.
Brush with a fluoride toothpaste
Use a fluoride rinse or brush-on fluoride gel before bedtime. Occasionally a custom-fit fluoride applicator (which we can make for you) can make this more effective.
Visit our office at least twice yearly to detect and treat tooth decay or other dental problems.