Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Importance of Saliva

Saliva is needed for lubrication, you won’t be driving your car home tonight on water alone – it will need oil – the difference being lubrication.


So you have noticed some changes in your mouth.  Perhaps your lips are always dry, you have a constant thirst? Maybe you have noticed that it is difficult to chew and swallow food, possibly you are waking through the night with your tongue stuck to the roof of your mouth and you are desperate for a sip of water?  Any of these symptoms, and there are many more, are signs that you could be suffering with  or Dry Mouth.
If you are taking medications, it is more than likely that one or more of your prescribed drugs will list dry mouth as a side effect.  In fact over 1000 regularly prescribed medications will cause this painful and detrimental condition.

Painful, because trying to swallow food, or even just talking can be agony in extreme cases.  The mouth can become sore with ulcers and simple pleasures in life, such as sharing a cup of tea and a biscuit with friends will seem impossible.  A fundamental part of our wellbeing as humans is to socialise with friends, colleagues and family.
Detrimental, because a lack of saliva will leave the mouth open to attack from bacteria.  The teeth will have lost their protective coating and will be exposed to plaque acids. A rapid increase in cavities will ensue, as the loss of saliva means there is no remineralisation of the tooth enamel. Without the lubricating properties of saliva, abrasive foods will cause cuts to the mouth’s soft tissues which may then ulcerate.  Chronic dry mouth will also lead to bad breath.

An already vulnerable patient taking xerostomic medications can undoubtedly become withdrawn, depressed and suffer low self esteem.  If they are already poorly and uncomfortable and then feel unable to eat sufficiently nutritious meals, they will lose weight and not recover as well or as quickly as they perhaps could have done if the dry mouth had been diagnosed and treated.  Disturbed sleep caused by regular waking for sips of water and then the inevitable toilet visits will inhibit coping strategies.  We all know that a lack of regular sleep is the equivalent to torture!
So which drugs should we be looking out for, and what can we do to help? Many of the medications for Stroke, Alzeihmer’s, Parkinsons and Cancer Treatments will cause dry mouth along with all the ‘anti’s’ such as Antidepressants, Antihistamines, Decongestants and Beta Blockers. The list is extensive and worth discussing with the Prescribing Clinician.
If the medication is the cause of your dry mouth, then one simple measure that can be taken is to change the time that the drug is taken. For example, if taken in the evening, switch to taking it in the morning although this may not always be possible.

If medication is NOT the cause then a visit to a doctor is essential because a lack of saliva could indicate a more serious underlying condition which needs to be looked into.
Other methods to improve the symptoms would be to keep hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids but avoiding alcohol and coffee as these lead to dryness as does smoking, mouth breathing, and anxiety.

Use a high fluoride toothpaste and mouth wash to protect the teeth and gums and keep regular appointments with the dentist so that any changes can be monitored.  Stimulate saliva flow by sucking on sugar free sweets and chewing gum.
For those with a low salivary flow, the use of artificial saliva is recommended.  Choose one that is pH neutral and sweetened naturally with xylitol.  Mucin based artificial salivas such as AS Saliva Orthana have been proven to be more effective than the chemically formulated products offering a more efficient and longer lasting coating to the teeth and gums.  Saliva Orthana is available from all chemists and is available on prescription.


Written by Niki Smith
Regional Account Manager
A.S Pharma part of CCMed Ltd


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