It is not uncommon to experience dry mouth as you age, but it is not directly caused by age itself. It has many possible causes, including age-related changes to bodily functions.
You are even at higher risk to develop dry mouth if you breathe too often through your mouth rather than your nose! Despite being uncomfortable, dry mouth alone is not a severe issue as long as it is not persistent. If it is, it can lead to various long-term health issues, ranging from irritating to dangerous.
Someone who suffers from chronic dry mouth will likely experience mouth sores, splits at the corners of the mouth, cracked lips, increased plaque buildup & a greater risk of tooth decay & gum disease. You might even start to have nutrition issues, because the lack of saliva makes it more difficult to break down food when you eat.
What Is Dry Mouth?
Dry mouth, also called xerostomia, is a condition where the body does not produce enough saliva, characterized by a dry & often sticky feeling in the mouth. For the most part, it is just uncomfortable. Many people experience short-term dry mouth as a result of anxiety or stress, which is easily treatable & not a huge concern. However, persistent dry mouth is often a sign of greater health concerns that can cause bigger problems & damage your teeth. In extreme cases, it can even lead to tooth loss. For example, your body’s tolerance to a medication’s side effects can decrease as you grow older, making you more susceptible to dry mouth.
The causes of dry mouth are highly varied & include:
- Stress & anxiety
- Many medications (prescription & over-the-counter)
- Drinking alcohol
- Radiation therapy
- Diseases & infections (especially autoimmune disorders)
- Nerve damage
- Drug abuse
Treating Dry Mouth
Even if your dry mouth does not seem to be persistent, it is important to stay on top of treating it. The good news is that treatment is simple for most cases of dry mouth. First, make sure you stay hydrated by sipping on water throughout the day. For your dental & overall health, you should drink lots of water anyway! Dehydration, which dry mouth can be a sign of, is a serious health risk.
Other simple things you can do to treat dry mouth include chewing sugarless gum & limiting the salt, sugar & caffeinated drinks in your diet. Some people might recommend sucking on an ice cube or sugarless hard candy, but this can actually damage your teeth, so don’t do it! You can also purchase nonprescription saliva substitutes over the counter to reduce your current issues.
If you use tobacco or drink alcohol, cut back on those or find a way to quit. Even if you don’t think smoking or drinking is the root cause, those activities can irritate a dry mouth, so you should limit or stop them entirely. Plus, they’re just bad for you!
The best treatment for dry mouth always depends on the specific cause, so if home remedies or over-the-counter solutions don’t prevent your dry mouth, it can indicate a more serious underlying health issue. In serious cases it is best to visit a physician or dentist who can work with you to figure out the root cause of your dry mouth & help you treat it.