Why Seniors are Prone to Dry Mouth and What to Do About it

Has a senior confided in you that their mouth is so dry and sore that it hurts when they are eating or talking?  Or maybe sometimes they wake up in the middle of the night feeling like they are chewing crackers.

If this describes their experience, they might be suffering from dry mouth, also known as xerostomia.  But I’m just going to call it dry mouth in this article.

Dry mouth occurs when a person is not producing enough saliva. Dry mouth is not a normal part of aging, thank goodness.  Rather, it is a side-effect of common medications,  taking alcohol, smoking, and eating some foods.

Seniors are Prone to Dry Mouth

Saliva is Important

We take for granted the saliva in our mouth until it’s not there. Then it becomes very uncomfortable and even painful.

As a senior dental professional, I worry about dry mouth in my patients.  It is important to have saliva because it keeps the mouth moist,  washes away food debris, and reduces acidity that is produced by bacteria.   Lack of saliva will lead to dry mouth, and ultimately tooth decay and gum disease.

Saliva also provides disease-fighting substances throughout the mouth protecting the mouth against microbial invasion that could cause disease.

And of course, saliva will allow you to chew, talk and sleep comfortably. If you are experiencing a dry mouth, you need to find ways of managing it.

Managing Dry Mouth

As you can imagine, a dry mouth is painful. But there are many ways to improve the symptoms of dry mouth.

To sum everything up, seniors need to keep their mouths moist.  If they can carry a bottle of water with them and sip it throughout the day, it will help keep them comfortable.

While it may be tempting to substitute tap water with juices, I wouldn’t advise it. Some juices contain a lot of sugar that might lead to dental problems. But tap water contains fluoride which will strengthen your teeth.

Seniors can also increase saliva in their mouth by chewing gum. If all else fails, a senior dental worker can prescribe medication that does not cause dry mouth. 

For more advice and information on how to take care of seniors, contact Sonya Dunbar. Sonya Dunbar is a registered dental hygienist, TEDx, and national public speaker guided by 29 years of dental experience in private practice, skilled nursing facilities, and academia.

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