Jessica was concerned about her elderly father. Lately he had demonstrated a diminished appetite and claimed he just wasn’t very hungry lately. His home care assistant mentioned that he was complaining of a tickle in his throat and always seemed to be thirsty. Despite his increased water consumption, he was developing cracked lips and sores at the edges of his mouth. Jessica’s greatest concern came after his dentist appointment. After decades of not having any cavities, her dad’s teeth were riddled with decay. The dentist mentioned that her father might be suffering from dry mouth and recommended that they visit the physician.
The doctor confirmed the diagnosis of dry mouth and deduced that it was a side effect of some of the medication that Jessica’s dad was taking for high blood pressure and anxiety. The doctor made some adjustments to the dosages and provided them with some tips and tricks to dealing with dry mouth. Jessica felt confident that her father would feel better in no time.
The condition known as dry mouth is a chronic condition that is very common in the elderly. Essentially, dry mouth happens when there is not enough saliva to aid in eating, speaking and keeping the soft tissues of the mouth moist. Dry mouth is mistakenly thought to be a normal part of aging, and many family members and seniors believe that it can just be cured by drinking more water. However, there’s much more to dry mouth than it appears, and a lack of treatment can create serious health effects in the elderly.
Saliva performs an important job in the mouth by constantly bathing teeth, tissue and gums in a substance that removes food particles, neutralizes bacteria and breaks down food for digestion. The average human produces more than a quart of saliva in one day. When saliva production is down, those that suffer from dry mouth may experience a gritty, dusty feeling in their mouth and throat. Without enough saliva, the soft mouth tissues shrink up, exposing more tooth surface, stressing the gums and drying out the area around the mouth and the lips.
Dry mouth prevents seniors from chewing and swallowing effectively. This can become a problem when elderly loved ones start refusing to eat because of the irritation or pain associated with it. When seniors, who are often already on a reduced caloric intake due to appetite suppression, refuse to eat, they can boost their risk of malnutrition. Dry mouth tissues can also affect how dentures fit, contributing to the refusal to eat.
Another problem that the elderly have with dry mouth is an increase in tooth decay. Because there isn’t enough saliva to help fight off bacteria and viruses, there’s a better chance for gum disease and cavities to develop. Mouth sores and cracked lips can also become infected, contributing to overall poor health in elderly loved ones.
The causes of dry mouth are numerous, so a physician will have to diagnose the origin and then outline a treatment based on those findings. Many common medications can cause dry mouth in the elderly. It can also be a side effect of an illness or disease like diabetes, autoimmune disorders or anemia. Head and neck injuries can also affect the normal production of saliva.
The best way to offset the symptoms of dry mouth is to sip water throughout the day, especially when dining. Family members and home care assistants should provide the elderly person with sugar-free gum to stimulate saliva production. Regular dental checkups are a must to identify any problems with
dentures or tooth decay. Reducing or eliminating alcohol, caffeinated drinks and smoking will also help.
It’s too easy for family caregivers and home care assistants to overlook dry mouth in elderly people. However, the consequences of ignoring dry mouth as a serious health issues can result in even bigger problems for aging loved ones.
If you or an aging loved one are considering home care in Gretna, NE, please contact the caring staff at Seniors Helping Seniors® Greater Omaha at (402) 215-0308 today.