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LONDON, UK: Though the exact number of people who suffer from xerostomia is unclear, some studies estimate that as many as one in five of the population could suffer from some form of the condition. A new qualitative study has investigated the physical, emotional and social impacts of dry mouth, finding that it can lead to social anxiety, a reduced ability to eat and speak, and even a higher risk of mental illness.
Researchers at the University of Sheffield’s School of Clinical Dentistry carried out the study, which was commissioned by British pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline. Semi-structured interviews with 17 subjects were conducted to capture a comprehensive range of the impacts of dry mouth, and subsequent analysis used a framework approach informed by existing approaches regarding the measurement of oral health-related quality of life.
The results showed that there exists a wide range of symptoms associated with dry mouth that can have an extensive impact on physical, emotional and social functioning. Dry mouth, it was found, could result in restrictions in social participation, which, under some conditions, could be disabling.
“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,” said Dr Barry Gibson, Professor in Medical Sociology at the university and lead author of the study, in an interview with the Oral Health Foundation. “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,” Gibson added.
“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,” said Dr Nigel Carter, OBE, Chief Executive of the Oral Health Foundation.
“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,” he continued.
“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,” Carter concluded.
The study, titled “Measuring the symptomatic, physical, emotional and social impacts of dry mouth: A qualitative study”, was published online on 26 July 2019 in Gerodontology, ahead of inclusion in an issue.