Did you know 25 percent of Americans don’t have all of their teeth by the age of 60? Dental health is an important aspect of an individual’s overall health, especially as they age. Several factors make this true. Some of these include:
- Medical conditions like arthritis make flossing and brushing difficult
- Having cognitive issues causing a person to forget to take care of oral health as well as forgetting how to take care of oral health
- Some medications affect oral health and older individuals tend to take more medications
- Being genetically predisposed to dental issues
Oral health directly impacts the health of your entire body; in fact, poor dental health increases your risk of developing diabetes and heart disease. Since almost twenty-three percent of adults between the ages of 65 and 74 have severe gum disease, it’s obvious older adults need to be thinking about what they can do to increase their oral health.
Gum disease occurs when the tissues of the gums become infected. It’s often caused by a buildup of plaque on the gums and teeth. In addition to tooth loss, gum disease is linked to many other health problems in the body. Gum disease can be caused by:
- Plaque and food left in and on the teeth
- An unhealthy diet
- The use of tobacco products
- Diseases such as diabetes, cancer and anemia
- Poor fitting dentures and bridges
Bleeding, swollen or red gums are signs of gingivitis, the first stage of gum disease. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, be sure to let your dentist know.
Heart disease, respiratory disease, dry mouth, diabetes and many other conditions are associated with poor oral health in older adults. Let’s look at these issues in more detail.
Research has shown there is a connection between heart disease and periodontal disease. Good oral hygiene is important to prevent strokes, heart attacks and various other heart diseases. According to the American Academy of Periodontology, individuals with periodontal disease are nearly twice as likely to experience heart disease or atherosclerosis (coronary artery disease or CAD). Gum disease is believed to worsen existing heart disease and increase the risk of developing clogged arteries, which can also increase the risk of stroke.
Bacteria involved in gum disease can wreak havoc on the respiratory system, especially in older adults. Breathing in bacterial droplets from the mouth to the lungs can cause:
- Existing lung conditions to worsen
- Lung infections
- Severe pneumonia
Good oral hygiene is the best way to prevent this from happening.
Thirty percent of older adults experience a reduction in the production of saliva which leads to dry mouth. Dry mouth can occur naturally, may be a side effect of over-the-counter and prescription medications or a side effect of radiation cancer treatments to the head and neck.
Saliva is necessary to wash away bacteria, viruses and fungi in the mouth. Not having enough saliva can lead to gum disease and significant root and tooth decay. If you’re experiencing dry mouth, talk to your dentist.
Periodontitis, otherwise known as advanced gum disease, hampers the body’s ability to utilize insulin. High blood sugar levels may lead to gum infections causing a continuous and detrimental cycle. People with diabetes are at much greater risk of developing dry mouth, gum disease and thrush. To prevent gum disease from developing, daily oral care and regular dental checkups are critical to the health of a diabetic.
Root decay occurs when tooth roots are exposed to acids in food and beverages consumed. It’s very common among older adults (who are more prone to gum disease) which causes the gums to recede, leaving the roots exposed. Unlike teeth, roots don’t have enamel to protect them.
Even people wearing dentures need to be concerned with oral hygiene. Several factors can cause denture-induced stomatitis including bad oral hygiene, poor fitting dentures or a buildup of Candida albicans. Stomatitis, an inflammation of the tissue under a denture, can be very painful.
Oral Health Tips
There is more to good oral hygiene that brushing twice a day and flossing. The American Dental Association recommends:
- Brushing two times a day using a soft-bristled toothbrush and a fluoride-containing toothpaste
- Using an electric toothbrush
- Floss or use another inter-dental cleaner daily
- Clean full and partial dentures daily. It’s best to remove dentures at night, four hours per day at a minimum.
- Drink fluoridated tap water
- If you smoke, you need to quit.
- Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet containing dairy and high-fiber food
- Reduce sugar intake from candy and soda
- Visit a dentist regularly for check-ups, cleaning and exams. It’s important even for those wearing dentures to get gums checked regularly.
As a person gets older, they may let some things fall by the wayside, but dental hygiene should not be one of them. Since dental health is connected to whole-body health, oral health should be a priority, especially as a person gets older.
At Lake Park we understand the importance of good health and the importance of finding the right senior living community. We have created a free guide titled to help you in your search. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us.