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Xerostomia: Dry Mouth

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Xerostomia: An Anatomy

Xerostomia can be defined as dry mouth resulting from reduced or totally absent saliva flow.

Xerostomia is not really a disease but it maybe a symptom of a medical condition such as Sjogren's Syndrome (an auto immune disease), a side effect from cancer therapy such as chemotherapeutic medications or radiation treatment or a side effect of a wide variety of medications.

Common Complications

There are many complications associated with xerostomia. It can affect dental, nutritional, and psychological health. These can include difficulty swallowing, sore throats, burning sensations, and even difficulty speaking.

Xerostomia will decrease oral ph, which will increase oral plaque and dental caries. Also yeast infections (oral candidiasis) are very common oral infections associated with xerostomia.

Implications for Eating, Speaking using Dentures

With xerostomia, people will often have some or all of the following complaints: Problems with swallowing, eating, speaking, and wearing dentures. Dry foods such as cereals, crackers, or other crumbly foods will be difficult to chew and swallow. Individuals with dentures will develop denture sores, retention problems, and difficulty speaking.

Some patients will develop taste disorders, a painful tongue, and an increased need to drink liquids. Other signs and symptoms will include cracking or fissuring of the lips(cheilitis), ulceration or inflammation of the tongue, and quite often halitosis.

Managing Xerostomia

Management and treatment of xerostomia first needs to include the identification of the xerostomic condition and the cause.

In many situations it will be difficult to eliminate or alter the underlying cause, so palliative treatment can be used, but will not cure the condition. Prescription medications such as Salagen(pilocarpine) may help some while over-the-counter dry mouth products such as Biotene brand products or artificial saliva products will be fine for many.

It is also recommended to avoid alcohol based mouth rinses and products containing sodium lauryl sulfate. Many times patients can just sip plain water or mix water and glycerine in a small aerosol bottle to get satisfactory relief.

Proactive Monitoring for Optimal Oral Health

Patients who suffer from xerostomia need to take an active role in their own management of their condition. If patients are diligent with regard to both identifying products and practices that are most useful to them, they can minimize the risks to their dental health.

Patients must also do a thorough, daily mouth exam to check for dark, discolored patches, ulcers, or tooth decay. If anything unusual is found, it needs to be reported immediately to their dentist or physician.

Xerostomia is a common problem and if not recognized and treated properly, can have a significant effect on a patient's quality of life. Through proper education, assessment, prevention, and appropriate treatment, patients along with their dentists can minimize xerostomia and its effect on quality of life and overall dental health.

Wisconsin Reconstructive Implant Dentistry
Wisconsin Prosthodontics
Bruce Winter, DDS
Winter Dental Associates
Hampton Dental Associates
5323 W. Hampton Avenue
Milwaukee Wisconsin WI 53218
(414) 464-9021

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