Leading dental and pharmacy organizations are teaming up to promote oral health and raise public awareness of dry mouth, a side effect commonly caused by taking prescription and over-the-counter medications. More than 500 medications can contribute to oral dryness, including antihistamines (for allergy or asthma), antihypertensive medications (for blood pressure), decongestants, pain medications, diuretics and antidepressants. In its most severe form, dry mouth can lead to extensive tooth decay, mouth sores and oral infections, particularly among the elderly.
Nearly half of all Americans regularly take at least one prescription medication daily, including many that produce dry mouth, and more than 90 percent of adults over age 65 do the same. Because older adults frequently use one or more of these medications, they are considered at significantly higher risk of experiencing dry mouth.
The American Dental Association (ADA), Academy of General Dentistry (AGD), American Academy of Periodontology (AAP) and the American Pharmacists Association (APhA) are collaborating to expand awareness of the impact of medications on dry mouth, a condition known to health professionals as xerostomia.
With regular saliva production, your teeth are constantly bathed in a mineral-rich solution that helps keep your teeth strong and resistant to decay. While saliva is essential for maintaining oral health and quality of life, at least 25 million Americans have inadequate salivary flow or composition, and lack the cleansing and protective functions provided by this important fluid.
"Each day, a healthy adult normally produces around one-and-a-half liters of saliva, making it easier to talk, swallow, taste, digest food and perform other important functions that often go unnoticed," notes Dr. Fares Elias, president, Academy of General Dentistry. "Those not producing adequate saliva may experience some common symptoms of dry mouth."
Signs and symptoms
At some point, most people will experience the short-term sensation of oral dryness because of nervousness, stress or just being upset. This is normal and does not have any long-term consequences. But chronic cases of dry mouth persist for longer periods of time. Common symptoms include trouble eating, speaking and chewing, burning sensations, or a frequent need to sip water while eating.
"Dry mouth becomes a problem when symptoms occur all or most of the time and can cause serious problems for your oral health," explains Dr. Matthew Messina, ADA consumer advisor. "Drying irritates the soft tissues in the mouth, which can make them inflamed and more susceptible to infection."