Dry Mouth and Older Adults
Delta Dental cautions that medications may harm their oral health.
OAK BROOK, Ill. (September 10, 2013) - Novelist C. S. Lewis once wrote, "How incessant and great are the ills with which a prolonged old age is replete." Indeed, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that about four out of every five older adults suffer from a chronic condition, and half have at least two.1
Often, those chronic conditions are treated with a variety of prescription medications. During National Healthy Aging Month, Delta Dental, the nation's largest dental benefits provider, cautions older adults to guard against a dangerous side effect of more than 400 prescribed and over-the-counter medications—dry mouth.2
As it is medically defined, dry mouth is the result of a reduction of salivary output or quality. But dry mouth is more than just irritating and mildly uncomfortable; it can also increase the risk of tooth decay, gum disease and other oral infections. Many medications that treat chronic illnesses—such as hay fever, heart disease, Parkinson's disease, high blood pressure (hypertension) and depression—are known to have dry mouth as a side effect.3
"As our population ages, there are more people with chronic medical conditions taking multiple prescription medications," said Dr. Bill Kohn, DDS, vice president of dental science and policy for Delta Dental Plans Association. "It's important to remember that many of these may cause dry mouth and increase the risk for tooth decay and other oral problems. Regular visits to the dentist can help older adults get early detection of any problems and appropriate guidance."
The New York Times recently attributed the dry mouth that results from many prescription medications as a major contributor to the rapidly deteriorating oral health of nursing home residents.4 The American Dental Association (ADA) has even advocated for warning-label information on these types of "xerogenic" medications to promote awareness of the potential oral health complications associated with drug-induced dry mouth.3 According to the ADA, chronic dry mouth is a common adverse effect for each of the following medication groups:3
If your mouth becomes dry after taking a medication, you may want to mention it to your physician. Sometimes, an equally effective substitute medication can be prescribed that does not have the same side effect. To help you maintain good oral health and stimulate saliva, your dentist might suggest sipping water or sucking on ice chips frequently, avoiding alcohol, caffeine and tobacco products, chewing sugar-free gum or sucking on sugar-free candies.5
1Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Healthy Aging at a Glance (2011). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/chronicdisease/resources/publications/AAG/aging.htm
2U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Oral Health in America: A Report of the Surgeon General. Rockville, MD: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, National Institutes of Health, 2000.
3Warning Label Information on Medications Associated with Xerostomia (Dry Mouth). American Dental Association. http://www.ada.org/sections/newsAndEvents/pdfs/ltr_dry_mouth_110427.pdf
4Nursing Homes' Dental Problems. New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/video/2013/08/05/health/100000002374631/nursing-homes-dental-problems.html?smid=tw-share
5"Dry Mouth." National Institute on Aging, National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, National Institutes of Health, March 20, 2010. http://www.nidcr.nih.gov/OralHealth/Topics/DryMouth Accessed 2010.