The American Pharmacists Association (APhA) has teamed up with leading dental organizations to expand public awareness of medication-induced dry mouth.


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APhA, dental groups take aim at dry mouth

August 11th, 2011

WASHINGTON – The American Pharmacists Association (APhA) has teamed up with leading dental organizations to expand public awareness of medication-induced dry mouth.

APhA said Thursday that it's working with the American Dental Association (ADA), Academy of General Dentistry (AGD), American Academy of Periodontology (AAP) to promote oral health and educate consumers about the health impact of dry mouth, or xerostomia, a common side effect from taking prescription drugs and over-the-counter medicines.

The association reported that more than 500 medications can contribute to oral dryness, including antihistamines (for allergy or asthma), antihypertensive medications (for blood pressure), decongestants, pain medications, diuretics and antidepressants. In its most severe form, dry mouth can lead to extensive tooth decay, mouth sores and oral infections, particularly among the elderly.

With regular saliva production, teeth are constantly bathed in a mineral-rich solution that helps keep them strong and resistant to decay. Although saliva is vital to maintaining oral health and quality of life, at least 25 million Americans have inadequate salivary flow or composition, and lack the fluid's cleansing and protective functions.

"Dry mouth becomes a problem when symptoms occur all or most of the time and can cause serious problems for your oral health," stated Dr. Matthew Messina, ADA consumer adviser. "Drying irritates the soft tissues in the mouth, which can make them inflamed and more susceptible to infection."

According to Messina, who practices general dentistry in the Cleveland area, without the cleansing and shielding effects of adequate saliva flow, tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease become much more common. "Constant dryness and the lack of protection provided by saliva may contribute to bad breath," he explained. "Dry mouth can make full dentures become less comfortable to wear because there is no thin film of saliva to help them adhere properly to oral tissues. Insufficient saliva can also result in painful denture sores, dry and cracked lips, and increased risks of oral infection."

Nearly half of all Americans regularly take at least one prescription medication daily, including many that produce dry mouth, and more than 90% of adults over age 65 do the same. Because older adults frequently use one or more of these medications, they are considered at significantly higher risk of experiencing dry mouth.

Individuals with dry mouth should have regular dental checkups for evaluation and treatment. "Be sure to carry an up-to-date medication list at all times, and tell your dentist what medications you are taking and other information about your health at each appointment," noted Thomas Menighan, executive vice president and chief executive officer at APhA. "In some cases, a different medication can be provided or your dosage modified to alleviate dry mouth symptoms. Talk to your pharmacist if you have any questions regarding your medication."

Chronic cases of dry mouth persist for long periods of time. Common symptoms include trouble eating, speaking and chewing, burning sensations, or a frequent need to sip water while eating. 

The groups added that besides medicaitons, radiation treatment for head and neck cancer is also a key cause of severe dry mouth. The treatment can produce significant damage to the salivary glands, resulting in diminished saliva production and extreme dry mouth in many cases.

"Saliva plays an important role in maintaining oral health," commented Dr. Donald Clem, president of AAP. "With decreased saliva flow, we can see an increase in plaque accumulation and the incidence and severity of periodontal diseases."

Recommendations for relieving dry mouth include increasing fluid intake, chewing sugarless gum, taking frequent sips of water or sucking on ice chips, as well as avoiding tobacco and intake of caffeine, alcohol and carbonated beverages. Dentists can suggest saliva substitutes or oral moisturizers to keep your mouth wet, and pharmacists can provide guidance on products to help manage dry mouth.

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