Thirty million Americans have dry mouth (xerostomia), including 30% of people 65 or older. It sounds like little more than a nuisance. But it can desiccate your life.

As salivary glands stop working properly (producing less than half the normal amount of saliva), symptoms can include trouble swallowing... trouble speaking... bad breath... indigestion (from a lack of amylase, an enzyme in saliva that triggers starch digestion)... chronically dry lips, with cracks in the corners that are targets for yeast infections... and rampant tooth decay (as teeth-destroying bacteria are no longer flushed out of the mouth by lysozyme, another saliva enzyme).

"The decrease in the quality of life for someone with severe dry mouth can be devastating," says Ross Kerr, DDS, clinical associate professor at the New York University College of Dentistry.

There are many causes of dry mouth, including medications (the most common cause), menopause, diabetes, Parkinson's disease, depression, autoimmune diseases such as Sjogren's Syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis and cancer treatments such as radiation and chemotherapy.

Problem: "The mouth rinses, gels and sprays for easing dry mouth don't last very long, so the patient is dosing all the time," says Dr. Kerr.

Recent breakthrough: A new "mucoadhesive" patch for dry mouth sticks to the roof of the mouth for several hours, stimulating lubrication and providing long-term relief. And a recent study shows that it works.

Patching up dry mouth

Researchers in the Department of Oral Medicine at Hebrew University treated 20 people with dry mouth with either the pitches (OraMoist) or the leading over-the-counter treatment for dry mouth (Biotene mouthwash).

The patches stimulated five times more saliva production than the mouthwash. Twice as many people using the patches said they felt more moisture in their mouths and reductions in the sensations of dry mouth. And 70% of those using the patches said they would use them again, compared with 30% of those using the mouthwash.

"OraMoist was superior to Biotene in improving xerostomia symptoms and in overall patient satisfaction," reported the researchers in the journal Quintessence International.

"Oral disorders such as dry mouth require sustained residence of the active remedy in the mouth for effective treatment," says Abraham ]. Domb, PhD, a study researcher. "Mucoadhesive patches are made of safe ingredients that adhere to the oral mucosa! tissue and slowly erode, while releasing active remedies for two to six hours, providing the desired residence time for effective therapy."

What kind: The mucoadhesive patch used in the study was OraMoist, from Quantum Health. It includes several ingredients that help increase saliva flow...

• Tricaprin, a patented fatty acid compound that makes the mouth feel lubricated

• Xylitol, a naturally occurring sugar substitute that reduces the amount of decay-causing bacteria and also stimulates saliva production.

• Citrus oil and natural lemon flavor, both of which stimulate saliva production

• Oral enzymes naturally found in saliva

• The patch itself, which also stimulates saliva.

"People with dry mouth find the patches very easy to use and very effective,'' says Jonathan Bregman, DDS, a dental consultant and expert on the early detection of oral cancer. "I am also a believer in natural ways to heal, and this patch very much fits that model. I have recommended it to thousands of dentists and other health-care providers."

"Some of my patients now swear by the patches," adds Dr. Kerr. "They use them every single day."

OraMoist is widely available in drugstores and online. You can order it at www.dentek. com.

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