The Importance Of Elderly Dental Care
Oral hygiene is important for people of all ages, but especially so for seniors. As we age, maintaining good dental health becomes ever more challenging. Medical conditions like arthritis and cognitive issues make brushing and flossing difficult and may cause forgetfulness. Transportation and financial difficulties due to these conditions can delay or prevent access to needed dental care.
As a result, dental health is often neglected. Yet it is vital to prioritize this as we age, since untreated dental problems put seniors at increased risk for chronic illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease.
Good senior dental care helps to prevent the more common problems like toothaches, gum disease, and tooth loss. The latter occurs more frequently in our senior years because as we age our tooth enamel begins to wear away, making our teeth more susceptible to damage and decay. Poor dental care as a senior can also lead to gum disease and jawbone resorption. Preventing and treating these types of serious oral health conditions is the reason elderly dental care is so important.
This article will detail some of the direct impact that dental problems can have on general health, and why it is so important for seniors to prioritize oral health care, and make sure to see their dentist a minimum of twice a year.
There is a solid connection between oral and cardiovascular health. Research links gum disease with a high risk of getting heart disease. By age 65, about a quarter of adults in the US have severe gum disease, which occurs when the gum tissues become infected, usually after a buildup of plaque on the gums and teeth, and the plaque buildup has not been removed. This plaque can even infect dentures. For the cohort group over age 65, the percentage with gum disease increases to over 2/3 according to the CDC.
This gum infection can then travel through the bloodstream into the inner layer of the heart. When endocarditis is treated with antibiotics, it puts a strain on the heart. This narrows the blood flow when the arteries begin to swell in response to bacterial infections and increases the risk of a stroke or heart attack.
Severe gum disease (also called periodontitis) can lead to sore and bleeding gums, chewing problems, and tooth loss, among other health problems including heart disease. Immediate treatment and attention is very important.
If there has been a history of gum disease, it is important to use plaque removing toothpaste or plaque removing dental gel to prevent this from developing again.
The bacteria that are present in gum disease can migrate to the lungs and severely affect the respiratory system, causing existing lung conditions to worsen or leading to new lung infections or severe pneumonia. In general, seniors have a much harder time recovering from respiratory diseases.
Diabetes is a significant health issue among seniors, and the immune response to gum disease (periodontitis) affects the body’s ability to regulate insulin levels. This can create life-threatening situations related to poorly controlled glucose levels.
Additionally, high blood glucose levels can lead to gum infections, creating a vicious cycle of gum disease causing more gum disease.
Older adults typically experience a reduction in saliva production, leading to dry mouth. Saliva is necessary to flush bacteria, viruses, and fungi out of the mouth. Dry mouth can cause significant oral health problems including loosened dentures, tooth decay, and trigger gum disease.
Symptoms of dry mouth include cracks and sores on the outside of the mouth, loose dentures, and difficulty eating, speaking, swallowing, and tasting.
If your mouth is dry, drink plenty of clear fluids and avoid smoking, caffeine, and alcohol which make symptoms worse. Sugar-free gum and using a special mouthwash can help ease the discomfort of dry mouth.
Tooth Root Decay
Tooth root decay is common in older adults, and is due primarily to gums receding naturally with age, as well as a diet that includes acidic foods. Foods that are acidic tear down the tooth’s enamel.
When gums recede, the root becomes increasingly exposed to mouth bacteria that contribute to their decay. This happens because, unlike our teeth, roots do not have enamel to protect them.
Stomatitis is a painful inflammation of the gum tissue beneath dentures, typically caused by ill-fitting dentures, poor oral hygiene, or the buildup of a yeast infection. Regular gum health checkups with a dentist can help prevent this disease.
When seniors lose teeth and do not have them replaced with implants, the jawbone starts to deteriorate and causes the surrounding teeth to shift into open spaces. This results in an uneven jawbone, potentially leading to severe bite issues and appearance concerns. This is another reason for regular elderly dental care with your dentist so that your need for implants or denture can be assessed.
Older adults are at higher risk for oral cancers. The risk is higher for people who chew tobacco, or smoke cigars, cigarettes, or pipes. Regular dental checkups can spot problems early and result in earlier treatment.
Preventive Oral Health With Elderly Dental Care
Despite the serious health complications that can result from neglecting dental hygiene, maintaining a high level of oral health does not have to be complicated for seniors.
Here are some basic recommendations from the American Dental Association.
●Brush twice a day using a soft-bristled toothbrush
●Use an electric toothbrush if arthritis is an issue
●Floss daily or use another interdental brushes to get areas that brushing misses
●Consider using a Waterpik water flosser for plaque removal
●Clean full and partial dentures daily and remove them at night
●Eat a well-balanced diet with plenty of dairy and foods high in fiber
●Reduce sugar intake, especially candy and soda
●Visit a dentist for regular dental cleaning and exams, even if you have dentures
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