London: Suffering from a dry mouth? Don't worry, as researchers have now developed a new battery-powered "gumshield" which they say could cure the painful condition that affects around one in 10 adults.
   
The horseshoe-shaped device, which fits over the lower teeth, uses minor electric shocks to trigger the production of saliva -- essential for aiding digestion by softening food as well as fighting dental bacteria.
   
Healthy people produce around three pints of saliva a day which is also necessary for basic functions such as speaking and swallowing. However, many people do not produce enough saliva, a condition known as dry mouth, or xerostomia.
   
The condition -- which usually occurs as a side-effect of particular drugs like blood pressure pills and antidepressants -- is linked to diabetes and Parkinson's disease. It is often triggered by treatment for head and neck cancers.
   
The condition can make swallowing painful, and increases the risk of infection in the lining of the mouth or throat, or in the gums. Treatments vary according to the severity of the symptoms. For some, frequent sips of water are enough to provide relief, while others rely on the use of spray and gels which help lubricate the mouth.
   
However, many find these do not last long enough.
   
The new device, which is tailor-made for each patient, sends out a mild, painless electric current which stimulates the nerves in the mouth and, in turn, triggers the salivary glands to produce more saliva.
   
The patient turns the device on and off with a hand-held remote control and it is meant to be used for a maximum of ten minutes an hour.
   
Past research has showed that it helps patients with dry mouth caused by medications. In a new trial, 84 patients with dry mouth as a result of cancer treatment will be given a custom-made device and asked to use it at home for 12 months.
   
"This looks really interesting. It will be helpful for those who still retain some salivary gland function," said Dr Andrew McCombe of the Frimley Park Hospital in Surrey.

Meanwhile, scientists have developed another new treatment for dry mouth — a mint-flavoured "disc" that is stuck on to the gum or tooth. This is designed to melt during the night.
   
The disc, smaller than a 20p coin, contains 500mg of xylitol, an ingredient that stimulates saliva production (this is a sugar substitute and common component of chewing gum).
   
It has a vegetable gum adhesive that is used to stick it to the molars (the large teeth at the back of the mouth).
   
Results from the small trial by dentists at the University of Washington showed that it led to a three-fold improvement in symptoms within a week and reduced levels of discomfort.

(Agencies)