Community Blog

Is Dry Mouth Serious in the Elderly?

By Denise Roskamp

While anyone can get dry mouth, it is especially prevalent in the elderly. If you are a family caregiver, you’ll want to find out whether or not your aging loved one is suffering with dry mouth. Dry mouth is more than feeling thirsty, it’s a medical condition where the mouth makes little to no saliva. The health effects of dry mouth are surprisingly serious and should not be minimized.

What is Dry Mouth?

Dry mouth is a condition where the glands in the mouth don’t produce enough saliva. This makes it difficult for many elderly people to swallow or talk. It also makes the skin in and around their mouth tight and dry. Saliva also does the important job of rinsing food particles from around the teeth and gums. Saliva also helps prepare food for digestion by starting to break it down. Finally, saliva keeps the throat and mouth moist and healthy.

Health Problems from Dry Mouth

A lack of saliva can have an effect on an elderly person’s health and wellness. When saliva can’t wash away food particles, bacteria can build up and cause everything from bad breath to tooth decay. A dry throat can lead to irritation and dry coughs. Because eating can be irritating without saliva, some seniors don’t eat much or avoid certain foods because they are hard to swallow. Radical changes to a diet can lead to malnutrition in the elderly. Dry mouth can also be a signal of a serious health problem in elderly people, such as HIV or diabetes.

Main Causes of Dry Mouth in the Elderly

Dry mouth is often a side effect of medication, both over the counter and prescription. Hundreds of medicines can trigger dry mouth in seniors, as they are likely to take several different kinds to deal with several chronic conditions or illnesses like high blood pressure. Other causes could be a neck and head injury to the nerve endings that trigger saliva production. Strokes, chemotherapy or other radiation exposure can also affect the glands. While smoking doesn’t always cause dry mouth, it can greatly enhance the symptoms as well.

Treating Dry Mouth in Seniors

The best way to treat dry mouth in the elderly is for them to be properly hydrated. This usually means sipping water throughout the day. Elder care aides can make sure the elderly person always has a water bottle nearby. They can also remind the elderly person to suck on sugar-free candy or chew sugar-free gum to stimulate saliva production. Family caregivers should make an appointment with their loved one’s doctor to get an examination to ensure there isn’t a serious medical issue present. Also, regular dentist visits are important to look for tooth decay, which is very common in those with dry mouth.

Seniors can overcome the effects of dry mouth with the help of you, family members and elder care assistants. While the condition is certainly inconvenient, it can open the door to several health issues, too. When it comes to dry mouth in seniors, it’s never too late to get a professional opinion on what to do.

Source:
https://nihseniorhealth.gov/drymouth/whatisdrymouth/01.html

IF YOU OR AN AGING LOVED ONE ARE CONSIDERING ELDER CARE IN WAYLAND, MA, PLEASE CONTACT THE CARING STAFF AT HOME HELPERS TODAY. CALL NOW (508) 545-0164.