Dry Mouth

May 2016

Ask the Pharmacist

By Stefanie Tagg

Pharmacist at Thrifty Foods Pharmacy

Ever find yourself with a consistently parched mouth? Dry mouth, also known as xerostomia, is a common symptom, affecting about one in every 4-5 adults, although it is more prevalent in older people. The condition is usually associated with the salivary gland not producing a normal amount of saliva; however, some people may experience dry mouth with normal saliva production while other people with low saliva production don’t notice it.

Many medications can also cause dry mouth -- this includes medications for insomnia, depression, overactive bladder, allergies, pain and muscle relaxation, among others. Certain conditions such as celiac disease, rheumatoid arthritis and high blood pressure can also cause dry mouth. Not every circumstance is the result of medications or medical conditions so it is important to continue to practise good oral hygiene and see your dentist regularly.

Given the important role saliva plays in your overall oral health, it’s important to understand its impact. After all, saliva is protective by maintaining the neutral pH of the mouth, promoting remineralization of teeth, providing local antimicrobial activity and, of course, assisting in the taste mechanism. Dry mouth is unpleasant but can also cause your teeth to decay more easily, lead to tooth loss and oral infections, impact your ability to taste and even make some medications, like sublingual nitroglycerin for angina, less effective.

There are many ways to treat dry mouth. For instance, you can take small sips of water throughout the day, suck on ice chips, avoid or cut down on alcohol, tobacco and caffeine, and use a humidifier to keep air moist in your home. Sucking on sugar free candy or chewing sugar free gum is another option, but be sure to read the labels to ensure it doesn't contain simple sugars such as glucose, fructose, or sucrose, which may cause cavities. Mouthwashes that have alcohol in them should be avoided because they have a drying effect. The use of fluoride, applied by your dentist and in certain toothpastes (such as Prevident) is very important in preventing dental issues in patients with dry mouth. If you are having difficulty swallowing your medications due to dry mouth, ask your pharmacist if there are liquid or chewable options available. If not, sip water first then swallow capsule or tablet with a full glass of water.

Artificial saliva products may be of some benefit and work to replace moisture in the mouth. They are most beneficial at bedtime and before speaking. There is limited evidence to support one over another so product selection is based on personal preference, availability and cost. Some options available are Biotene products, including toothpaste, gel, mouthwash, and mouth spray which contain salivary enzymes. Moi-Stir is a mouth spray that contains electrolytes normally present in saliva. Mouth Kote is an herbal remedy mouth spray. Oral Balance gel has a synthetic polymer and salivary enzymes. Salivary substitutes do not replace all functions of real saliva including protecting your teeth, so let your dentist know if you are using one of these products.

Dry mouth can be inconvenient but sometimes is unavoidable. There are options to help alleviate the symptoms, so talk to your pharmacist.

The James Bay Beacon receives monthly contributions from the following pharmacists:

Jason Cridge - Cridge Family Pharmacy;

Stefani Tagg - Thrifty Foods Pharmsacy; and

Robert Wojtas - James Bay Pharmasave