Ask a Dentist

February 21, 2019

Q: My 72-year-old dad has a dry mouth, sore throat and difficulty swallowing. What’s going on?

An older couple poses together and shows off their smiles.

Dryness, burning, and difficulty swallowing are typical symptoms of xerostomia (also known as dry mouth).

An estimated 20 - 30% of people over 70 years old have a dry mouth, and it’s typically a symptom of another condition. Your dad’s mouth is dry because he’s not producing enough or very little saliva. Or the quality of his saliva is poor.

Saliva is critical to dental and overall mouth health. Saliva controls the pH levels and removes food particles in your mouth. Saliva lubrication keeps your mouth moist so swallowing and chewing is easier. The quality of our saliva changes our sense of taste as well.

Get your dad drinking lots of water daily—about 3 litres. Chewing sugar-free gum may increase saliva production. Avoid caffeine as it increases mouth dryness. Humidifiers, breathing through the nose, quitting smoking and rinsing with alcohol-free mouthwash may help too. Dry mouth increases chances of periodontal disease, so make sure your dad is flossing and brushing daily.

We’re sorry to hear your dad is going through this. Rest assured, the condition is common and manageable. Work with your dentist and doctor to lessen your dad’s discomfort. Book an appointment today.

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