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Imagine the feeling of a thirst that is so strong it seems it will never be quenched, a constant burning sensation on the tongue, or lips that are constantly dry and cracked. Thirsty yet? Unfortunately, thousands of people, particularly the elderly, are affected by this condition called xerostomia or ?dry mouth.?
Dry mouth is not something to be taken lightly by any means. It can cause a lot of discomfort and have some extremely negative impacts on a person?s quality of life.
When a person has dry mouth, there is an increased risk of cavities and periodontal disease because there is less saliva to cleanse the teeth and gums. In addition, this condition is known to affect a person?s speech, taste sensation and ability to swallow.
When a patient?s salivary glands significantly decrease the production of saliva, or cease production altogether, there is a high risk of cavities or other oral diseases. Saliva is the mouth?s self-cleansing mechanism. It helps remove food debris and plaque from tooth surfaces.
A permanent feeling of dry mouth or decreased saliva flow can be caused by systemic-diseases such as: rheumatoid conditions, dysfunctional immune system, and hormonal and neurological disorders. Biological aging is a contributing factor to this condition, but does not cause dry mouth.
Dry mouth in others can be caused by radiation therapy directed at the head and neck region of the body, which can result in permanent damage to the salivary glands. In addition, there are over 400 drugs that can cause dry mouth as a side effect. The more common drugs are decongestants, diuretics, antihypertensives, antidepressants, and antihistamines.
Many patients that experience dry mouth complain of a sore or burning sensation on the tongue; dry, cracked lips, and at the corners of the mouth; and are often thirsty.
If patients exhibit these symptoms, they should immediately see an oral health professional. With a little extra care, dry mouth can be adequately controlled.
The WDA recommends those affected by dry mouth take the following precautions to keep the mouth wet and reduce the likelihood of cavities or periodontal disease:
Brush and floss teeth at least four times per day (after each meal and before bedtime)
Brush and rinse dentures after each meal
Keep water handy to wet the mouth at all times
Chew sugarless gum
Avoid tobacco, alcohol, sodas and foods high in sugar content
Use moisturizer on the lips to alleviate discomfort.
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