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Medications + Your Mouth | Causes of Dry Mouth in Older Adults

Polypharmacy: it’s a fancy word for when someone is prescribed two or more medications for their health conditions. It’s a blessing that we live in a time where medications add years to our lives, but there are consequences. One of the most common negative side effects of medication for older adults is xerostomia, which is the fancy word for dry mouth.

Medication can cause dry mouth

Medications can impact your saliva production and decrease your body’s ability to salivate. And it’s common – dry mouth is a known side effect of more than 400 medications.

A dry mouth may seem like a minor problem, but 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 that commonly cause dry mouth include:

  • Antihistamines
  • Antihypertensives
  • Tricyclic antidepressants, antipsychotics, and antidepressants
  • Diuretics and bladder control medications like Oxybutynin
  • Appetite suppressants
  • Decongestants
  • Anti-asthma drugs
  • Anti-migraine drugs
  • Opioids
  • Retinoids
  • Sedatives

The side effects of medications aren’t the only cause of dry mouth. Common over-the-counter drugs can also dehydrate your mouth:

Non-prescription drugs that cause dry mouth:

  • Acetaminophen – A pain reliever that can reduce fever, like Tylenol.
  • Dimenhydrinate – An antihistamine used to prevent or treat nausea, vomiting, or motion sickness, like Dramamine.
  • Diphenhydramine – An antihistamine used to relieve symptoms of allergy, hay fever, and the common cold, like Benadryl.
  • Alcohol — including the adult beverage and any mouthwash containing alcohol.

Dry mouth consequences

Having a dry mouth from medication is uncomfortable enough on its own. Unfortunately, a higher risk of cavities and gum disease isn’t the only negative side effect.  Consequences of a dry mouth include:

  • sore throat,
  • burning sensation,
  • trouble speaking,
  • difficulty swallowing,
  • hoarseness, and
  • dry nasal passages

Dry mouth is the most commonly reported side-effect of prescription drugs, but it’s not the only one.

Other ways medication impacts your oral health:

  • 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 take medications for medical conditions, it’s important to tell your dentist so he or she can properly assess your oral health knowing that your medications may be a factor.