Treatment for Dry Lips and Mouth
A lack of saliva flow can cause dry mouth. Dry mouth can cause discomfort, speech and swallowing problems, and make it difficult to wear dentures. It can also worsen oral hygiene by increasing acidity and bacterial growth, which can lead to tooth decay. Dry mouth can cause severe tooth decay (caries), and candidiasis. Dry mouth is more common in older people.
Dry mouth is caused by dysfunction of the salivary glands, which can lead to reduced saliva production. There are several causes of dry mouth, including dehydration or mouth breathing.
Dry mouth is most commonly caused by:
- Radiation to the neck and head (for treatment of cancer).
The most common cause is medication. A total of 400 prescription drugs and many over-the counter medications can cause reduced saliva production. These are the most popular classes of medication:
- Anticholinergic drugs (by suppressing the action acetylcholine)
- Parkinson’s Disease medications (drugs used for Parkinson’s treatment)
- Chemotherapy drugs to treat cancer
Anticholinergic effects are common in many commonly prescribed medications. One of the many side effects of anticholinergic medications is dry mouth.
While taking chemotherapy drugs, severe dryness and soreness of the mouth (stomatitis), can occur. These symptoms disappear when the drug is stopped.
Dry mouth can also be caused by certain antihypertensives (drugs that raise blood pressure), anxiolytics, anti-anxiety drugs, and antidepressants (used for treating depression).
Methamphetamine abuse has resulted in an increase in the incidence of “methmouth,” which is a form of advanced dental decay that results from methamphetamine abuse. This is caused by teeth grinding and/or clenching, heat from the inhaled vapor and possibly increased sugary drinks intake and poor oral hygiene. This combination can lead to severe dental problems and rapid destruction of teeth.
Reduced salivation is a common side effect of smoking.
Radiation therapy for head or neck cancer can cause severe damage to the salivary glands, and permanent dryness. Even low radiation doses can cause temporary dryness.
Dry mouth is less common in patients with systemic diseases, which affect the entire body. Sjogren’s syndrome patients often experience dry mouth. Dry mouth is common in HIV-infected patients and diabetics.
Dry mouth assessment
Dry mouth does not necessarily mean that you should see a doctor immediately. This information will help you determine whether a medical evaluation is necessary and give you some guidance about what to expect during that evaluation.
Dry mouth can cause concern for some people. These are:
- Severe tooth decay (cavities)
- Dry eyes, dry skin, rash or joint pains
- Risk factors for HIV infection
When to see a doctor:
Anyone who notices warning signs should immediately see a doctor. A dentist should be seen for severe tooth decay (cavities). If you have dry or painful symptoms, but no warning signs, your doctor can see you within one week.
- The cause of the problem should be addressed, and causative drugs should be stopped if it is possible.
- Sometimes, medication to stimulate saliva production is necessary
- Saliva replacement
- Regular dental hygiene and care
Dry mouth should be treated as soon as possible. Dry mouth due to medication should be treated in the morning and not in the evening. Tooth decay is more common in dry mouth that occurs at night. Easy-to-take medications such as liquid forms should be considered for all medications. Avoid placing medications under the tongue. Before swallowing tablets and capsules, or putting nitroglycerin under their tongues, people should drink plenty of water. Avoid antihistamines and decongestants.
Control of Symptoms
There are several ways to treat symptoms.
- Increase saliva production
- Replacing saliva by another fluid
- Control tooth decay
Cevimelin, pilocarpine and other medications that increase saliva production are examples of medicines that can be used to boost this process. Cevimelin’s main side effect is nausea. Pilocarpine’s main side effects include nausea, sweating, and the excretion large quantities of dilute urine (polyuria).
Drinking sugar-free beverages and chewing gum with xylitol can stimulate salivation. You can also try an over-the-counter substitute for saliva.
Vaseline can also be used under dentures and on the lips to reduce dryness, cracking and soreness. Cold-air humidifiers can be helpful for mouth-breathers who often have their worst symptoms at night.
It is essential to practice good dental hygiene. Regular cleaning of the teeth should occur, especially before bedtime. Use fluoride toothpaste (prescription or over-the-counter) daily. Tooth decay can be prevented by using newer toothpastes that contain more calcium and phosphates. For tartar and dental care, the dentist should be seen more often. A customized tray with prescription toothpaste to apply fluoride at home is the best way to prevent tooth decay. Sometimes, it is preferable to apply a prescription fluoride toothpaste directly to the teeth without the need for a dental splint. A dentist can also apply a sodium fluoride varnish up to four times per year.
Avoid sugary and acidic beverages as well as dry, spicy, or extreme hot or cold food. Sugary foods should not be eaten before bedtime.
Important information for the elderly
Dry mouth is more common in older people. However, this could be due to the many medications they take and not to age itself.
Main problems with dry mouth
Dry mouth is most commonly caused by medications. However, some diseases (like HIV infection or Sjogren’s syndrome) and radiation therapy may also be a cause.
Chew gum with xylitol, sugar-free lozenges or medications can increase salivary flow.
Dry mouths are more likely to develop dental decay. Therefore, it is important to maintain good oral hygiene and take additional preventive measures such as daily fluoride rinses or toothpaste containing high levels of fluoride.