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home : health & seniors : health & seniors

1/10/2013 3:41:00 PM Email this articlePrint this article 
Mind your mouth: Oral issues can affect overall health

Karen Lewis
Washington Dental Service Foundation

Hundreds of prescription and over-the-counter drugs can cause dry mouth, a problem that afflicts one in three people over the age of 55. Left untreated, it can lead to significant tooth decay and eventually gum disease, which has been linked to heart conditions, diabetes and other serious health issues.

Yet dry mouth isn't talked about much.

In fact, sufferers may find it difficult to talk - or swallow and eat, for that matter. Dry mouth, in addition to its health dangers, can greatly diminish a person's quality of life.

"If you're not producing enough saliva to buffer acids and dilute bacteria's negative effects in your mouth, you are more likely to develop dental decay and other oral issues," said Dr. David Branch, a trustee with the Washington Dental Service Foundation.

The Foundation is enlisting help from medical professionals because medications are the most common cause of dry mouth. More than 400 prescription and over-the-counter medications, including seven of the 10 most frequently prescribed drugs, have dry mouth as a potential side effect.

Older adults are particularly prone to dry mouth because they're more likely to be taking multiple medications, including treatments for high blood pressure, pain, asthma and allergies, and depression and anxiety. Dry mouth can also be a side effect of chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and certain health conditions, including diabetes and Parkinson's.

The Foundation offers these tips to maintain good oral health:

• Alert your doctor or dentist if your mouth feels dry as a result of a medication. There may be a different drug you can try.

• For a healthy alternative to candy, opt for sugarless gum or mints, especially those with the natural sweetener xylitol, which protects teeth from decay.

• Sip water frequently during the day and limit drinks with caffeine and alcohol.

• Get regular dental checkups and cleanings.

• Floss daily and brush your teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste.

For more tips as well as information on reduced-cost dental care in your community, visit the www.seniorsoralhealth.org or call Aging and Adult Care of Central Washington at 509-886-0700.



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