Xerostomia (the perception of absent or a reduced volume of saliva) is a potentially serious risk factor for oral disease.

The complaint of xerostomia means the physical properties of saliva are altered, and this usually indicates the protective functions of this critical oral fluid may be lost or diminished.

The causes of xerostomia vary. In older adults common causes include the following:

  • Drug side effect/interaction
  • Systemic disease
  • History of therapeutic irradiation to the head and neck (e.g., for cancer)
  • Salivary gland disease

In developing the differential diagnosis for xerostomia it is important to identify the aetiology in order to plan management of the condition.

Dry mouth in a patient can result in:

  • Decreased remineralisation ability
  • Diminished pH (increased intraoral acidity) and buffering capacity
  • Lowered antimicrobial properties that can contribute to the increased development of caries
  • Increased retention of oral debris
  • Complaints of bad breath/bad taste in the mouth
  • Diminished lubrication of hard and soft tissues
  • Chewing and swallowing complaints
  • Difficulty with denture use
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