Polypharmacy is a fancy word for someone who is prescribed more than one medication by their doctor for health conditions. We now have thousands of medications available for potentially life-threatening medical problems. As a result, the average American’s life expectancy has never been higher.
Dry mouth is the constant feeling that there is not enough saliva in your mouth. This is one of the most common negative side effects of medication for older adults while on medication.
Medication Causes Dry Mouth
A dry mouth may seem like a minor problem, but it can cause discomfort and contribute to a lowered quality of life. Dry mouth is listed as a side effect on more than 400 medications. Without adequate saliva flow, bacteria, plaque and the by-products they produce can accumulate in the mouth. This makes a person more vulnerable to gum disease and tooth decay.
Medications impact your saliva production and can actually decrease your body’s ability to salivate. Additionally, medications can have a different impact on the mouth. They can also make your mouth feel dry when your body continues to produce the same amount of saliva.
Dysgeusia – the distortion of taste – can occur from medications and from persistent dry mouth. If you take medications for your overall health, it’s important that your dentist knows. Then, they can properly assess your oral health, keeping in mind that your prescription regimen may be a contributing factor.
Prescription drug studies have led researchers to claim that they are the single most common cause of dry mouth. Researchers also found that women are more likely to suffer from dry mouth than men. Medication-induced dry mouth usually happens when your doctor has you try a new medication. You can also develop dry mouth from medication if the dosage has been increased.
These are the most common dry-mouth causing medications:
- Tricyclic antidepressants, antipsychotics, and antidepressants
- Diuretics and bladder control medications like Oxybutynin
- Appetite suppressants
- Anti-asthma drugs
- Anti-migraine drugs
One study looked at older adults taking urinary incontinence drugs. They found that they were six times more likely to have a dry mouth and decreased salivary production than those taking the placebo. Urinary incontinence is more common in older adults, especially women. Don’t hesitate to inform your dentist about your health conditions, they could be affecting your oral health and quality of life!
The side effects of medications aren’t the only culprits causing dry mouth. Common over-the-counter items can also dehydrate your mouth:
Non-Prescription Drugs Causing Dry Mouth:
- Acetaminophen – A pain reliever that can reduce fever, like Tylenol.
- Dimenhydrinate – An antihistamine used for preventing or treating nausea, vomiting, or motion sickness, like
- Diphenhydramine – An antihistamine used to relieve symptoms of allergy, hay fever, and the common cold, like Benadryl.
- Alcohol including both the adult beverage and any mouthwash containing alcohol.
Polypharmacy, or taking more than one prescription daily, causes much worse dry mouth condition than any one single drug caused during the researchers’ studies.
Dry Mouth Consequences
Having a dry mouth is uncomfortable enough on its own. Unfortunately, it also comes with other negative side effects when it isn’t alleviated. It’s been proven that someone taking three or more prescriptions has a higher root caries index, or ratio of cavities, than someone taking one or two prescriptions. The consequences of a dry mouth include:
- constant sore throat
- burning sensation
- trouble speaking
- difficulty swallowing
- dry nasal passages
Dry mouth is the most commonly reported side-effect of prescription drugs, but it’s not the only one.
Gingival enlargement, also called gum swelling, is a condition when the gums swell and begin to grow over the teeth. Eventually, this overgrowth of gum tissue can cause periodontitis. Dental and health professionals reduce the risk for gingival enlargement through consistent monitoring and early intervention.
Other ways medication impacts the smile:
- Oral sores and inflammation, from oral contraceptives and blood pressure control medications.
- Discolored teeth, from tetracycline (medicine used for acne treatment).
- Mouth lesions or ulcers from as antibiotics and ibuprofen.
If you or a loved one is experiencing trouble with dry mouth or other oral health conditions that come with age, speak with a dentist right away. Prevent further damage and increase quality of life by sharing any oral health concerns.
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Editor’s Note: Content updated April 2019.