You might be surprised to learn how much your dental health says about your physical well-being. Periodontal disease is a precursor for some pretty serious medical conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, and stroke. The healthier our mouths are, the healthier our bodies will be. And fortunately, it’s not that hard to care for them!
Risks and Dangers
The aging process begins to affect oral health and puts seniors at higher risk for several common oral health problems such as:
- Dry Mouth. Dry mouth is a condition where the mouth stops making necessary amounts of saliva. It’s a common side effect of many medications, cancer treatments, and dehydration. More than being a nuisance, decreased saliva production puts seniors at a higher risk for developing gingivitis, tooth decay, and mouth infections such as thrush. The dentist may recommend specialized mouthwashes or the implementation of a humidifier to help keep the mouth moist.
- Root Decay. Typically, gums begin to recede with age, and as a result of gum disease. This will eventually leave the higher parts of the tooth, which are the lower portions of the roots, exposed and vulnerable to acids and other substances that lead to their decay. If dental roots are damaged beyond repair, it leads to dental extractions.
- Gum Disease. Also called periodontal disease or gingivitis, gum disease is most commonly caused by an accumulation of plaque on the teeth and along the gum lines. This hard substance allows bacteria to grow, causing inflammation (gingivitis) that leads to gum disease – the leading cause of tooth loss. Other common causes include smoking, use of dentures, poor diet, and certain diseases.
- Tooth Loss. As mentioned above, gum disease is the leading cause of tooth loss. Losing your natural teeth is a serious business. While dentures may seem synonymous with old age, they are also synonymous with poor diet and a deterioration of the gum tissue and jawbone. Dentures are typically uncomfortable and make it difficult for seniors to eat well, which leads to malnourishment, a compromised immune system, and susceptibility to other medical conditions. The longer you can keep your own healthy teeth, the better!
- Uneven jawbone. Your teeth, gums, and jaw have a very close relationship. When the teeth go missing or are extracted, the gums and jawbone begin to diminish, which can lead to misshapen jaws. If you break or lose a tooth, get to the dentist immediately to determine the best solution. Implants or well-fitting bridges and dentures will help to slow down receding gums and jaws.
- Denture-induced stomatitis. Dentures must be cleaned, maintained, and fitted on a regular basis or they can contribute to disease of the mouth. Denture-induced stomatitis can occur with poorly fitting dentures, poor oral hygiene, or an accumulation of a fungus called Candida albicans, which causes the gums to become inflamed and potentially infected.
- Thrush. This is the same condition that can affect babies and young children. It is a symptom of a compromised immune system and is the result of a build-up of the aforementioned fungus.
What You Can Do
We all know brushing and flossing twice a day is important for oral health. But there’s more to maintaining dental care than that. Here are expert tips from the American Dental Association that are good guidelines to follow:
- Brush twice a day with a toothbrush with soft bristles and fluoride-containing toothpaste
- Use an electric toothbrush
- Clean between your teeth once a day with floss or another inter-dental cleaner
- Rinse with an antiseptic mouthwash once or twice a day
- If you wear full or partial dentures, remember to clean them on a daily basis – Take your dentures out of your mouth for at least four hours every day, and know that it’s best to remove them at night
- Quit smoking – Besides putting you at greater risk for lung and other cancers, smoking increases problems with gum disease, tooth decay and tooth loss
- Visit the dentist on a regular schedule for a complete dental check-up, cleaning and oral exams
- Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet that includes dairy and high-fiber foods
Seniors in general are the most likely to stop seeing the dentist, especially in cases where dental insurance is no longer covered by a retirement health plan. The good news is that most dentists offer special rates for seniors and those who do not have dental insurance. They are often willing to work with you on payment plans. Seniors can also apply for CareCredit, which can be used like a credit card for dental and other health services.
Schedule your next dental checkup today, because dental care for seniors is crucial to overall health!