Dry Mouth and Tooth Decay - Dr. Fred Peck

by Dr. Fred Peck, DDS 24. June 2014 07:00

Dry mouth, the technical term being xerostomia is a very serious and prevalent problem in older adult patients. This results in unnecessary cavities, root canals, lost teeth and more along with a significant amount of expense to patients. Dry mouth is caused by a number of conditions. As we age, the amount of saliva decreases in our mouths. Food debris and plaque that would normally be washed away by saliva is allowed to accumulate on the teeth, leading to an increased acidic environment that promotes tooth decay. Older patients also can be prone to gum recession. With the root of the tooth now exposed, root surfaces are more susceptible to cavities than enamel in these patients. The food collects around the gum line to help contribute to the cavities.

Many patients are also on a variety of medications. Many of these medications have the side effect of causing a dry mouth. Every patient reacts differently to these meds. Combining a natural decrease in saliva because of age along with medications, contributes to a very unhealthy oral situation. Patients that notice a significant decrease in their saliva should have a discussion with their physician to look for alternative medications that can still treat their medical problems, but minimize the side effects. Oral hygiene is also an issues in older patients. Those patients that are unable to care for themselves and may need their health caretaker to help with brushing and flossing.

Many things can help combat the issues of the dry mouth. As mentioned, proper oral hygiene is essential. An electric toothbrush is a great addition to the oral hygiene regimen. Older patients may not have the manual dexterity to brush or may have arthritis, which prevents them from proper cleaning of the tooth surfaces. There are several artificial saliva products on the market which can help to offset the lack of saliva. Fluoride is an excellent addition to oral care regimen. There are several over the counter products available to the patient. An even better solution are prescription fluoride toothpastes and fluoride rinses. Your dentist can prescribe what is best for your situation. Custom fluoride trays can be placed for 15-20 minutes prior to bedtime with a fluoride gel, that covers all of the teeth. Saliva decreases at night and this is a great boost to get the patient through the night helping to protect the teeth.

Each patient has a unique situation and their dentist is the best one to discuss their oral hygiene needs and preventive techniques that are the best solutions.

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