To be honest, when we started making our mints and gum we knew little about dry mouth issues. It’s amazing though how often it now comes up, both among the people that buy our products and also the dental professionals we talk to. Apparently one in five older people will experience a dry mouth. With the help of some experts, we’ve therefore put together this guide covering the causes, symptoms and what can be done to help.
What is dry mouth?
‘Dry mouth’ is not an illness in its own right, it’s a symptom that has many causes. As you may expect from the name, it describes the feeling of having a dry mouth (xerostomia) and the actual reduction in saliva in the mouth (hyposalivation).
What are the causes of dry mouth?
As mentioned above there are lots of causes. Most commonly it’s a side effect of medication. Over 400 different medications (including antidepressants, antihistamines, beta-blockers, diuretics and many many more) can affect the flow of saliva. We also hear from lots of people who get a dry mouth after their salivary glands are damaged by radiation during cancer treatment. Then there are some diseases that affect the salivary glands, including Sjögren’s Syndrome and diabetes. Other causes include chemotherapy and damage to the nerves that control the salivary glands.
What are the symptoms of dry mouth?
Saliva is very important. Normally your mouth constantly produces it to stay moist and to help break down the food that you eat. Importantly saliva not only washes debris from your teeth but it’s also supersaturated with various ions. When you eat or drink, the bacteria in your plaque will break down sugars to produce damaging acids. Your saliva contains ions (including calcium and phosphate) that buffer these acids, neutralising the acidity in your mouth. This process is key to preventing damage to your tooth enamel and dentine.
It follows then that there will be problems if you don’t have enough saliva. Along with discomfort it can make chewing, swallowing and even speaking difficult. The chance of tooth decay is also significantly increased as the saliva is not there to wash away bits of food or neutralise acidity. This is particularly important when your gums recede as this exposes the much softer root dentine which decays more readily and so holes can develop near your gums whilst the crowns of your teeth remain sound. The Oral Cancer Foundation believes that up to 30 percent of all tooth decay in older adults is a result of dry mouth. The risk of mouth infections like gingivitis also increases.
People with dry mouth can also notice cracked lips, bad breath, a sore throat and interrupted sleep (due to discomfort or thirst).
What are the treatments for a dry mouth?
Ideally you would be able to treat the underlying cause. However in many cases that’s not possible as there may be no choice but to take a certain medication. If a specific medication is causing discomfort it may be worth speaking to your doctor to see if the dose can be adjusted or if there’s an alternative drug to try.
What relief is there for dry mouth?
There are things that can be done to get some relief or to prevent it from getting worse. Here are a few tips…
Cut down on diuretics like caffeine as dehydration will aggravate dry mouth.
Avoid smoking or chewing tobacco as unsurprisingly these can aggravate the condition.
Keep well hydrated. Take frequent sips of cold water and always have a glass of water by your bedside. Some people find sucking on ice cubes helps.
Breathe through your nose as much as possible.
Chew xylitol gum or suck xylitol mints. Our sugar free products help in two ways. First up they promote saliva which can provide relief. Secondly the xylitol gives you extra protection against tooth decay (you can find out how here). It is useful to chew xylitol containing gum after eating as this stimulates saliva and returns your mouth to pH neutral much quicker. People with very sensitive mouths may prefer our lemon mints to the peppermint. You can see all our products here. Oh and in case you’re concerned all our flavours are acid-free (this is important and if you are sucking other sugar free sweets PLEASE check they are pH neutral).
If these tips are not enough, your doctor may be able to prescribe a saliva substitute. These can come in gels or sprays and some (but not all) people find they help.
And finally, if you have a dry mouth please make sure you see your dentist regularly. As we said people with a dry mouth are much more likely to get decay so even if you are having xylitol mints & gum, see your dentist or hygienist as often as they recommend.
If you have any questions or feedback on this article please drop us a line to firstname.lastname@example.org
PS here are a few quotes from customers that have dry mouth issues…
“These bring immediate relief for my dry mouth.”
“I need these urgently – they are really helping my dry mouth syndrome, caused by the radiotherapy.”
“Very good for dry mouth”
“I find these are great to suck for my dry mouth”
“Because of the damage to the saliva glands I need something to suck and promote saliva flow. Your lemon mints are just the job.”
You can buy our xylitol mints and gum from our webshop here.