Higher risk of mental health illnesses, social anxiety and reduced ability to eat and speak are just a few of the difficult realities faced by dry mouth sufferers, according to the findings of a new study.
First-hand accounts from the research describe the various physical, emotional and social barriers faced because of the condition.
Those with dry mouth are not able to produce enough saliva. This leads to problems with eating, tasting, talking and maintaining a clean mouth.
Many of the participants, like Fi, describe how debilitating dry mouth can be and how it gets worse at night, when the mouth produces less saliva than in the daytime.
Fi says: “I was choking, waking at night. It was the most frightening experience that I have ever encountered, and I really thought I was going to die.”
Others describe the feeling as waking up with their mouth ‘feeling like cardboard’ and ‘devoid of any wetness’.
Jane adds: “My worst time is at night because for some reason, it wakes me up. The need to have a drink. It really affects you.”
Lead author of the study, Professor Barry Gibson, believes that considering the high influence dry mouth has on the lives of sufferers, it is surprising that more hasn’t been done to break down the barriers that they face every day.
Professor Gibson says: “When we were originally commissioned by GlaxoSmithKline to undertake this study we were not quite prepared for the sheer profound impacts of dry mouth on everyday life. We were all moved by what our participants were saying to us and completely shocked at the sheer range of impacts that dry mouth has on daily functioning.
"When you consider the different impacts dry mouth has on daily life and that they are constantly present you start to wonder why no-one has done anything about this.
“The impacts of dry mouth are so profound that participants reported staying away from restaurants because the menus did little or nothing for them. It’s as though the whole restaurant sector is oblivious to the plight of people with dry mouth."
The number of people with dry mouth is unknown but some studies estimate that up to one in five of the population could suffer from some form of the condition.
Chief Executive of the Oral Health Foundation, Dr Nigel Carter OBE, believes more awareness needs to be raised about the challenges associated with suffering from dry mouth.
Dr Carter says: “Conditions like dry mouth go under the radar because they are not instantly visible to the naked eye. Despite the lack of awareness, dry mouth is very common and the effects on a person’s life can be devastating.
“Dry mouth is a common side-effect of different medicines and is also caused by cancer treatment such as radiotherapy and chemotherapy.
“The physical symptoms associated with dry mouth make relatively simple tasks like eating or talking extremely difficult. This can also have a negative impact on a person’s quality of life, confidence and self-esteem.
“An unhealthy spiral of anxiety and depression can really spell a difficult future for dry mouth sufferers in a number of different ways, including a lack of enthusiasm to maintain good oral health.
“There is a real and urgent need to explore the impact of dry mouth and what we can do to help sufferers gain a better standard of life.”
Sadly, there is currently no cure for dry mouth.
The research, from the University of Sheffield, shed light on a number of different challenges that dry mouth sufferers face day-to-day.
Respondents claimed their condition has left them feeling far less confident in social situations to the point where they feel uncomfortable eating in public and speaking to other people. For some, dry mouth has become a source of anxiety and depression.
Fi adds: “It has made me feel like I’m a failure, made me feel very ashamed and it has made me feel that I can’t grasp or achieve what I can potentially do in the real world. You learn to accept, but you have the odd moment like, I don’t deserve this.”
“Dry mouth is widely misunderstood or even ignored,” says Dr Carter. “As a result, sufferers are likely to often feel the same way and become withdrawn as a result.
“It is important that government and health chiefs focus on suppressing symptoms and removing the psychological effects of dry mouth. Partnerships should also be developed with restaurants and other food outlets, so they can adapt menus for those with dry mouth.”