Oral Health for Seniors, Always a Priority
Taking care of your teeth and gums is important during all phases of your life as good dental health impacts your entire body. However, dental health is often overlooked by many seniors. Common reasons include difficulty in brushing or flossing your teeth if you have arthritis or even remembering to brush your teeth if you have a cognitive health disorder. Prescription and over-the-counter drugs can also affect your oral health. As we age, our natural teeth start to deteriorate and we may even end up losing one (or more of them); any remaining teeth are at a heightened risk of decay. In addition, gum disease often leads to chewing problems, serious pain, and changes in facial appearance. Also, Medicare and Medicaid don’t cover routine dental care so having adequate finances or supplemental insurance to pay for dental care can be an issue.
What are some of the associated problems with getting older that connect to poor oral health?
- Decreased sense of taste: Some oral diseases can also affect our sense of taste as we age.
- Denture-induced stomatitis: The tissue underlying your dentures can become inflamed. This may be caused by the buildup of fungus, bad dental hygiene, or poor-fitting dentures.
- Diabetes: High blood sugar can lead to gum infection which in turn limits the body’s ability to use insulin.
- Discolored/darkened teeth: Staining from foods and beverages plus thinning of the tooth’s outer enamel layer lets the yellow dentin, the bone-like tissue underlying the tooth enamel, be seen.
- Dry mouth: Saliva keeps your mouth wet which offers protection against decay and prevents infection by reducing bacteria, viruses, and fungi in the mouth. Dry mouth is usually a result of the intake of certain medicines.
- Gum disease: When plaque and food are left in our teeth, gum disease, an infection of the tissue that supports your teeth, sets in. Gum disease is also caused by tobacco use, unhealthy diets, and poorly-fit dentures and bridges. More than half of seniors have gum disease which is the leading cause of teeth loss among this population.
- Heart disease: There is a strong correlation between gum disease, cavities, and missing teeth to heart disease (heart attacks, strokes, and other heart disease conditions). In fact, people with periodontal disease are two times more likely to experience a heart-related disease.
- Increased sensitivity: Areas of your teeth enamel that are not protected are more prone to sweet and sour, and hot and cold foods. This may also be a sign of a cavity or cracked tooth.
- Oral cancer: You can watch for sores that don’t heal beyond two weeks or any red or white patches in your mouth. Oral cancer is easier to cure when detected early and predominantly affects the older population.
- Pneumonia: Good oral hygiene is a preventative measure to combat breathing in bacterial droplets from the mouth to the lungs.
- Root decay: Basically, the root of a tooth becomes exposed as the gum tissue recedes from it. The root then does not benefit from enamel protection and is more prone to decay. This is usually caused by acids from foods.
- Uneven jawbone: If you lose a tooth and don’t get it replaced with a false tooth, then the remaining teeth often shift into the open space which makes for an uneven jawbone. This may then cause chewing issues and also affect your facial appearance.
What can you do to improve senior dental care?
- Brush your teeth at least twice a day with a soft-bristled toothbrush (or use an electric toothbrush) and fluoride toothpaste
- Clean your dentures daily; remove them for at least four hours/day (usually during the night)
- Discuss any issues you are experiencing: changes in your gums or teeth, increased pain or sensitivity, discomfort or bleeding, etc.
- Drink water from the tap as it contains fluoride
- Don’t smoke
- Eat a well-balanced, healthy diet that includes dairy and high-fiber foods
- Floss minimally once a day and use an antiseptic mouthwash daily
- Have your teeth cleaning and checked on a regular schedule (minimally two times a year)
- Reduce alcohol intake
It is always important to take proper care of your teeth so they stay in their best condition. We can all benefit from being more cognizant of daily dental hygiene and oral care to offset some of the more common problems associated with getting older. Make oral health a priority!
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