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Transcript: "What Is Dry Mouth?"

ANNOUNCER: Sixty-six-year-old Carla Prokovsky has dry mouth-- the feeling that there is not enough saliva in the mouth.

CARLA PROKOVSKY: My dry mouth is just always there. Periodically, during the day, I will have some saliva, but for the most part, my mouth is very dry at all times.

ANNOUNCER: Many older adults have dry mouth, but it is not a normal part of aging. If you have dry mouth, something else may be going on.

BRUCE BAUM, D.M.D., Ph.D.: An older individual who's experiencing dry mouth should recognize that it's not a normal part of growing old and they should not accept someone just patting them on the back and saying, "When you get older, your mouth gets dry or your eyes get dry, etc."

ANNOUNCER: One symptom of dry mouth is difficulty swallowing. Carla first noticed she had a problem in her early 50s.

CARLA PROKOVSKY: If I were out and about sometimes and you know how you just swallow to swallow saliva-- I couldn't swallow. I just felt like my swallowing reflex was not working. And the first few times, that was very scary.

ANNOUNCER: In addition to dryness in the mouth and difficulty swallowing, dry mouth can also lead to an increase in tooth decay.

BRUCE BAUM: A second consequence of having too little saliva is a sudden upsurge in tooth decay. And instead of just getting a pat on the shoulder and saying everything's fine, you'll have three or four fillings broken down or new areas of decay.

ANNOUNCER: The glands that make saliva are called salivary glands. They keep the mouth moist and protect it from infection. People get dry mouth when their salivary glands are not working properly.

BRUCE BAUM: Saliva is critically important to us because our mouths are a sort of gateway to the world as well as to our bodies. Nobody pays attention to saliva until there isn't enough. The reason is, saliva provides this medium, this fluid, that protects and preserves every tissue from your lips to the bottom of your esophagus.

ANNOUNCER: There are several factors that can cause the salivary glands to make less saliva or change saliva so it doesn't work like it should. The number one reason is medication. More than 400 medicines, including over-the-counter medications, ranging from drugs for high blood pressure, urinary incontinence and allergies can cause dry mouth for many people. Some diseases, like diabetes and Parkinson's, can also affect the salivary glands. But it is Sjogren's syndrome, an autoimmune disorder, that is the second most common cause of dry mouth.

BRUCE BAUM: Sjogren's syndrome affects somewhere between one to two million people in the United States. Most commonly, they're women around menopause-- so perimenopausal women from, let's say, age 40 to 60. The principal problems are problems of the salivary glands and the lachrymal glands, that make tears. So patients can make too little saliva and/or too few tears.

ANNOUNCER: Carla's dry mouth was caused by Sjogren's syndrome.

CARLA PROKOVSKY: The Sjogren's is not just a dry mouth kind of thing-- it really, truly affects all of my moisture glands. And it also-- my nose is very dry and I do have very dry eyes.

ANNOUNCER: Other causes of dry mouth include cancer treatments for head and neck cancers and head and neck injuries that can cause nerve damage. The problems caused by dry mouth-- dryness, problems swallowing and tooth decay, among others-- can be treated. If you have a problem, see your doctor.

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