Medication is one of the main causes of Dry Mouth and taking multiple medications can increase the chance of experiencing a dry mouth by up to 40%. Some drugs have a negative effect on saliva production, some change the nature of the saliva and yet others act topically to irritate oral tissues. Their individual effects are multiplied exponentially when a person is taking several prescriptions, which is one reason the elderly and those with serious health issues are at a higher risk of Dry Mouth.
Medications can affect the salivary glands.
Saliva isn’t something we think about very often. The fact is that saliva performs several important functions in the body, meaning that lack of saliva can have a severe impact. Saliva has antimicrobial properties and acts as our body’s first line of defence against oral bacteria and fungi. It also helps break down food and is a conduit for nutrients. Its lubricating mechanism makes chewing, swallowing and even speaking easier. And finally, saliva plays a key role in protecting our teeth against tooth decay – both by helping remineralize the teeth and by fighting the plaque that causes cavities and gum disease. For these reasons, reduced saliva production can lead to general and dental health problems.
Some medications, such as anticholinergics, have a drying effect on the body’s secretions – including saliva. Their impact on the body’s saliva production is why they are closely associated with Dry Mouth. Reduced saliva production in the glands naturally leads to less saliva circulating in the mouth. This causes the tell-tale symptoms of Dry Mouth, including difficulty swallowing and speaking.
Anticholinergics are used to treat many different conditions and symptoms. They include a wide range of medications, such as tricyclic antidepressants, allergy medicines (antihistamines), antipsychotics, diuretics and muscle relaxants, as well as medicines for bladder control and Parkinson’s.
Drug therapies can thicken saliva.
Other medications cause Dry Mouth by thickening saliva and causing it to flow less freely. The result is, unfortunately, similar. Less saliva is available to circulate between the teeth and to rehydrate oral tissues. This category includes drugs for high blood pressure (antihypertensives), newer classes of antidepressants (SSRIs and MAOIs), asthma medicines (bronchodilators) and cold remedies (decongestants like pseudoephedrine).
Some medications act directly on oral tissues.
Medications that are inhaled, for example beta-2 agonists and corticosteroids for asthma or COPD, can affect the mouth directly. When you use an inhaler or nebulizer, the medicine has to go through the mouth to get into the lungs – and it doesn’t all make it. Inevitably, some of the drug remains in your mouth and throat. This can act as an irritant, meaning existing saliva has to work harder to clear it.
Corticosteroid inhalers can also cause candidiasis, or oral thrush. Thrush is a fungal infection that can cause pain when eating or swallowing. It’s also linked to a reduction in saliva, which can cause or worsen Dry Mouth symptoms.
Over 500 medications can cause dry mouth.
Dry Mouth is a very common side effect of medications. If you or a loved one is experiencing Dry Mouth symptoms, check here for a list of common medications that can cause it. If your medication isn’t listed, or to learn more, ask a health professional, such as your doctor, dentist or pharmacist. For Dry Mouth symptom relief, try one or more of the Biotène Oral Rinse, Oralbalance Gel, and Moisturizing Spray products.