By Dr. Richard Wolfert, DMD
The Toothboss,

There’s a perception that drooling becomes more common in your later years. From a dentist’s point of view that’s actually a good thing as excessive saliva washes away food particles and bacteria and neutralizes acids that can lead to increased plaque accumulation, which causes cavities and gum disease. Truth be told, a much greater issue for seniors is dry mouth and how that relates to your oral health.

Dry mouth, or xerostomia, is a common issue among senior citizens, affecting approximately 30 percent of individuals aged 65 and older. Senior citizens with dry mouth may experience discomfort while eating, swallowing or speaking. This condition can also affect their ability to taste food and overall quality of life.

For most seniors, dry mouth is caused by medications for treatment of any number of issues. Those can include anti-anxiety agents, antidepressants, antihistamines, antipsychotics, diuretics, Parkinson’s disease medications and urinary incontinence agents.

So how does dry mouth affect your teeth and oral health?

Dry mouth makes the teeth less absorptive to minerals like calcium and fluoride that strengthen them. Consequently, you have more susceptible tooth surfaces that are more vulnerable to accumulated plaque, which can lead to cavities and worse. Dry mouth also increases the risk of oral infections, such as thrush (oral candidiasis), due to reduced saliva’s antimicrobial properties.

Dry mouth also impacts seniors who wear dentures. Saliva acts like an adhesive and, without it, it can affect the stability and comfort of dentures.

Dry mouth can ultimately affect seniors by decreasing their ability to maintain a balanced diet and proper nutrition.

So, what can you do to alleviate dry mouth?

Start by drinking more water (fluoridated tap water is the best), using over-the-counter saliva substitutes or moisturizer (The Toothboss recommends Biotene Mouth Spray), chewing sugarless gum or sucking on sugarless sours to try to enhance salivary flow. Seniors can also make some external adjustments to their living environment, like using a humidifier at night while they sleep.

When it comes to dry mouth, however, it’s what you don’t do that is probably more important.

For example, it’s recommended that you avoid tobacco products, sugary drinks, caffeine and alcohol (that includes mouthwashes and rinses with alcohol) and spicy and salty foods.

Of course, the biggest concern with seniors is they stop taking a medication because it creates uncomfortable side effects like dry mouth. If you feel like you have dry mouth, it’s critical to ask your primary care doctor and dentist about it. And perhaps your doctor can alter the medication. You also want to be very thorough with your brushing and flossing technique and make sure you schedule regular checkups with your dentist so you both can stay on top of any potential problems that may arise as a result of dry mouth.

If you have questions about dry mouth, please contact the Toothboss at 781-335-0604. We’d be happy to set up an appointment and discuss treatment options.

Dr. Richard Wolfert, DMD is the owner of The Toothboss, 1121 Main Street, South Weymouth, MA. For more information, call 781-335-0604 or visit