Xerostomia – Cause, Symptoms, and Treatment Options for Dry Mouth

Dry mouth, also known as Xerostomia within the medical field, is not a disease but may be the symptom of a disease or of a health complication. With over 74% of institutionalized older adults suffering from Xerostomia the impact on dental hygiene and understanding the symptoms and causes of the condition is a critical component in geriatric nursing.

When suffering with a case of Xerostomia (dry mouth), the patient will exhibit symptoms such as bad breath, thick and string-like saliva, sores or splits along the corners of the mouth. Additionally, the patient may suffer an altered sense of taste and, in some cases, difficulty speaking or swallowing. Most common occurrences result from a medication side effect which may stem from the use of antihistamines, antidepressants and even some diuretics. Additionally, in chemotherapy patients, Xerostomia is a very common side effect as the treatment regime for cancer patients drastically alters the composition and flow of saliva. Patients with nerve damage to the face, neck and head may also suffer with Xerostomia as do patients with endocrine disorders, stress and nutritional deficiencies. Ironically, it may be these same causes that result in the proliferation of more severe symptoms. For example, a nutritional deficiency may result in Xerostomia at which point the actual dry mouth condition results in the patient’s lack of interest in food and, thereby, further downgrades the patient’s nutritional levels.

If diagnosed with Xerostomia, there are a variety of treatment options available. Home remedies may include blending and moistening foods, sipping plain water and avoiding alcohol based mouth rinses. Biotene branded products can be purchased, over the counter, and are designed for dry mouth conditions. When home remedies prove unsuccessful, a prescription for Salgen may be required through a physician.

Whatever the treatment option of choice, at least one process should be included in the daily routine of every geriatric patient to ensure the opportunity for Xerostomia development is reduced as much as possible. Because Xerostomia affects oral hygiene and increases opportunities for dental caries, prevention is important to prevent further health deterioration. Prevention is the first line of defense in reducing the exposure and complications associated with Xerostomia. For more information, consult a physician or dentist regarding prevention and treatment options.

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