9 Reasons Senior Dental Health Care Is Important
Looking out for a senior loved one’s health means not only keeping an eye on their nutritional intake and physical capabilities, but also on their gums and teeth.
As we age there are some things that we tend to let fall by the wayside. Dental health seems to be one of the personal hygiene steps that can be forgotten. Since dental health is connected to whole-body health, it’s important that senior loved ones have someone to remind — or help — them keep their oral health a priority.
Reasons Senior Dental Health Care Is Important
Senior dental problems can be common, from dry mouth to periodontal disease, and since oral health directly impacts the health of the rest of the body, these issues need to be taken seriously. Taking care of elderly teeth and gums is just as important as digestive or heart health.
Here are nine reasons senior dental care is so important:
- Heart Disease
Research has shown that there is a connection between gum disease and heart disease. Maintaining good oral hygiene is a powerful weapon against heart attacks, strokes and other heart disease conditions. In fact, according to the American Academy of Periodontology, people with periodontal disease are almost twice as likely to have coronary artery disease or heart disease. One study found that the presence of common problems in the mouth, including gum disease (gingivitis), cavities and missing teeth, were as good at predicting heart disease as cholesterol levels.
Poor oral health has been linked to pneumonia in older adults. By breathing in bacterial droplets from the mouth to the lungs, seniors are more susceptible to the condition; and good oral hygiene is a good way to combat this bacteria. Good oral health care is particularly important in nursing homes and in cargiving situations, where many residents are unable to care for their teeth, having to rely on staff and caregivers.
Severe gum disease, also called periodontitis, hinders the body’s ability to use insulin. High blood sugar, which is an effect of diabetes, can lead to gum infection. Good oral care in addition to regular dental checkups can help prevent this condition.
- Darkened Teeth
As we age, the dentin, or the bone-like tissue that underlies the tooth enamel, changes because of the beverages and foods we eat. Staining in addition to a thinning of the outer enamel layer that lets the yellow dentin show through, can create darkened teeth.
- Gum Disease
Gum disease is caused by plaque and food left in our teeth, in addition to the use of tobacco products, unhealthy diets, poor fitting bridges and dentures, and diseases like anemia, cancer and diabetes. Gum disease can instigate tooth loss and can be very serious for overall health as it has been linked to many problems in the body.
- Dry Mouth
Dry mouth can be a side effect of taking medications as well as cancer treatments that use radiation to the head and neck area. Saliva keeps the mouth wet, which protects teeth from decay and prevents infection by controlling bacteria, viruses and fungi in the mouth, so having a dry mouth can pose a problem.
- Root Decay
Caused by tooth root exposure to acids from food, root decay is very common in the elderly. As the tooth roots become exposed as gum tissue recedes from the tooth, the root doesn’t have enamel protection and makes them prone to decay.
- Uneven Jawbone
When teeth are lost and not replaced with false teeth, the rest of the teeth have a tendency to drift and shift into open spaces creating an uneven jawbone, which in turn can create appearance and bite issues.
- Denture-Induced Stomatitis
Caused by poor fitting dentures, bad dental hygiene or buildup of the fungus Candida albicans, this condition is an inflammation of the tissue underlying a denture. It can be quite uncomfortable for our senior loved ones.
How Age Can Affect Dental Health
Age doesn’t always negatively affect oral health on its own.
Certain medical conditions, such as arthritis in the hands and fingers, may make brushing or flossing teeth difficult to impossible to perform. Some people are also genetically predisposed to dental problems. Drugs can also affect oral health, as well as forgetting to brush or suffering from cognitive health disorders.
All of these reasons make senior dental care a priority, which is why it’s important to schedule dental checkups every six months, sometimes more, with qualified dentists and periodontists.
How to Improve Senior Dental Care
We all know brushing twice a day and flossing every couple days is important for oral health. But there’s more to maintaining dental care than we know. 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
- Drink tap water
- Since most contains fluoride, it helps prevent tooth decay no matter how old you are
- 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
How have you improved your senior loved one’s dental care? Share your stories and suggestions with us in the comments below.
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