Fresh off a holiday feast and anticipating more of the same, it is important that we remember the affects this is all having on our teeth.
Oral health affects your entire well-being – if your mouth is in bad shape, your overall health suffers. Senior citizens especially must pay closer attention to their oral health.
Why Seniors Have Different Oral Health Needs
A healthy smile becomes harder to maintain as time progresses, and it may require different or additional care. However, age in and of itself is not the cause of these heightened dental concerns. Other health factors that tend to be more prevalent in seniors are the culprits.
With advancing age, the body absorbs fewer nutrients from food and produces fewer hormones and enzymes. Arthritis does not directly affect the teeth, but it could lead to bruxism, or teeth grinding. Arthritis could also make a person unable to properly complete basic oral hygiene routines like flossing.
Medications can also cause the body to react unfavorably in the mouth. For example, a dry mouth condition called xerostomia, which creates a favorable environment for oral decay, is a common side effect for some antihistamines, decongestants, heart medications and diuretics. Previous dental work may need to be replaced, and decay can form around old fillings and crowns. To top it all off, teeth simply wear down over time.
Senior Citizens and Dental Health Nationwide
Dental health has improved among the older population compared to past decades, but with heightened risk among the older generations, decay and gum disease are still prevalent. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention presented a National Health & Nutrition Examination Survey 1999-2004 , concluding that:
Seniors age 65+ have an average of 3.28 decayed or missing permanent teeth and 13.65 decayed or missing permanent surfaces.
Approximately 23% of seniors age 65+ currently have untreated dental decay.
At least 92% of seniors age 65+ have had cavities in their permanent teeth at some point.
Common Dental Health Issues for Seniors:
The older generation faces an extended list of potential dental health problems. A few of these include:
Xerostomia – Often called dry mouth, this disease occurs when the mouth produces less saliva than normal. Saliva washes plaque-causing debris from the mouth, but certain medications like antihistamines, heart medications, decongestants or diuretics can dry it out.
Thrush – The overgrowth of oral fungus Candida albicans stems from a poor immune system. Certain medications or diseases can hinder the immune system, making the mouth more prone to oral thrush.
Stomatitis – Stomatitis, the inflammation of oral tissues, can be caused by inadequate oral hygiene and fungal buildup. The condition often occurs in the tissue under dentures, making ill-fitting dentures an additional risk factor.
Root decay – Receding gums expose the roots of the teeth, leaving them more susceptible to decay. Exposure to bacteria and acid reactions can easily lead to cavities since the root has a thinner layer of enamel protection.
Facial Collapse – The body notices that it’s no longer supporting a full smile as teeth begin to fall out. It therefore pulls resources from the jaw bone and redirects them to other parts of the body. The jaw eventually begins to deteriorate from a lack of nutrients, which can cause even more tooth loss.
Taking Care of Your Teeth
One of the most important steps you can take toward maintaining a healthy mouth and avoiding these associated health problems is to visit a dentist for regular dental checkups. A dentist can detect problems that the naked eye would never notice. For those with dentures, all appliances should be checked frequently to make sure they still fit properly and are not damaging the mouth in any way. Additionally, seniors should be sure to brush their teeth regularly using whatever method matches their dexterity. For those with less dexterity, you can wrap electrical tape around the toothbrush handle to make it easier to grasp, purchase an electronic toothbrush or even ask for assistance.
Last year, 34% of the American population did not visit a dentist at all (Gallup-Healthways poll).Infection and decay advance more quickly in seniors, so it’s important to schedule frequent checkups with a dentist. You only get one permanent set of teeth in your life, but if you take care of your smile, it could last a lifetime. Proper oral health can help you ensure a healthy mouth at any age.