NIHSeniorHealth says: Talk to your doctor about dry mouth

October 7, 2005

Stephanie Dailey, NIA | 301-496-1752 |

Kathy Cravedi, NLM | 301-496-6308 |

If you’ve ever stood up to give an important presentation, opened your mouth to speak, and realized you cannot form words, you know what it feels like to have dry mouth. Occasional dry mouth—the feeling that there is not enough saliva in the mouth—is normal. But experiencing dry mouth all or most of the time is not. Side effects of medications are the main cause of dry mouth, particularly in older adults who take more prescription and over-the-counter medicines than any other age group. Now, the latest information about the causes and treatments of dry mouth is available in an easy-to-understand, interactive format at The NIHSeniorHealth Web site is a joint effort of the National Institute on Aging (NIA) and the National Library of Medicine (NLM), which are part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

“Most people underestimate the importance of saliva,” says Lawrence A. Tabak, D.D.S., Ph.D., director of the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR), which developed the content for the dry mouth topic on the NIHSeniorHealth Web site. “Saliva does more than keep your mouth wet—it protects teeth from decay, helps heal sores in the mouth, and prevents infection by controlling bacteria, viruses, and fungi in the mouth. Dry mouth is more than an annoyance; it is a medical problem that requires treatment by a dentist or physician. NIHSeniorHealth’s new dry mouth topic is an excellent source of information on this condition.”

Dry mouth occurs when the salivary glands, which make saliva, no longer work properly. Many over-the-counter and prescription medications, some cancer treatments, and an injury to the head or neck all can cause salivary glands to produce less saliva, resulting in dry mouth. Some diseases, such as Parkinson’s disease and diabetes, also can affect the salivary glands. Dry mouth is the hallmark symptom of a fairly common autoimmune disease, Sjögren's syndrome, which targets the salivary and tear glands. Often, dry mouth cannot be cured, but it can be managed by avoiding certain foods and beverages, drinking plenty of water, and talking with your doctor about treatment options.

One of the fastest growing age groups using the Internet, older Americans increasingly turn to the World Wide Web for health information. In fact, 66 percent of “wired” seniors surf for health and medical information when they go online. NIHSeniorHealth was designed especially with seniors in mind. The site is based on the latest research on cognition and aging. It features short, easy-to-read segments of information that can be accessed in a variety of formats, including various large-print type sizes, open-captioned videos, and an audio version. Additional topics coming soon to the site include osteoporosis and heart disease. The site links to MedlinePlus, NLM’s premier, more detailed site for consumer health information.

The NIA leads the Federal effort supporting and conducting research on aging and the health and well-being of older people. The NLM, the world's largest library of the health sciences, creates and sponsors Web-based health information resources for the public and professionals. The NIDCR strives to improve oral, dental, and craniofacial health through research, training, and the dissemination of health information. All three are components of the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

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