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The Dry Mouth Epidemic – It’s More than Medications, Aging and Degenerative Diseases

Course Number: 595


Saliva is a complex fluid that helps support overall oral health. Dry mouth syndrome is a modern-day epidemic that affects people of all ages and significantly increases the risk for caries, erosion, dentinal hypersensitivity, and candidiasis. Insufficient or poor-quality saliva is a symptom of many conditions and illnesses, medications, and aging. Salivary issues are also modified by lifestyle choices, dietary intake, respiratory issues, and climate. Dry mouth syndrome includes feeling dry (xerostomia), a condition that is not necessarily the same as being dry (hyposalivation). A strong scientific foundation in dry mouth syndrome prepares clinicians to take a more effective role in early diagnosis and preventing or minimizing the effects of this multifactorial condition.

In October 2016, the FDI World Dental Foundation, an umbrella organization of 200 dental associations from 130 countries, released a new definition of oral health. Traditional definitions defined oral health as the absence of disease. The new definition recognizes oral health as a significant part of overall health and well-being, that oral health is a dynamic process, does not occur in isolation and that an individual’s values, perceptions and expectations impact oral health. The first part of the definition reads: “Oral health is multi-faceted and includes the ability to speak, smile, smell, taste, touch, chew, swallow and convey a range of emotions through facial expressions with confidence and without pain, discomfort and disease of the craniofacial complex.1

Many aspects of this new definition are critical to the discussion of dry mouth syndrome. Today’s dental professionals need a deep understanding of the multiple factors that cause dry mouth, the prevalence in various populations, salivary composition and flow rates and the impact of dry mouth on the quality of life.2 Dry mouth plays a role in the development and progression of many debilitating oral health conditions including caries, erosion, periodontal disease, candidiasis, and dentinal hypersensitivity.2‑5 Clinicians should be well versed in methods to accurately diagnose dry mouth, ways to improve saliva quality, and strategies to increase flow rates.2,6‑8