It’s well known that oral health is closely linked to overall health, especially when it comes to older adults. As you age, changes occur throughout your body, including in your mouth.
These changes present a set of specific considerations when it comes to oral health in older adults. Although oral health usually falls by the wayside in older adults, regular care of the teeth and gums can offset a host of problems linked to oral care. Here’s what you need to know about oral health in older adults.
Why Oral Care is Important
Poor oral health can compound with other health considerations, especially in older adults. Maintaining a stable oral care regimen is crucial to ensure overall health. Here are a few reasons why oral health should be of particular importance for the elderly.
Infections Can be Deadly
Oral infections can lead to trouble such as pneumonia, root decay, gum disease, and heart disease. Some of these infections, like root decay, are mostly just annoyingly painful, but others, like pneumonia, can be deadly.
Higher Risk of Disease
If you don’t take care of your teeth, your blood sugar levels may go up, potentially leading to diabetes. If you have an infection in your mouth or gums, the bacteria may carry to your lungs or your heart. Good oral hygiene is a great way to reduce the risk of disease.
Many older adults take several different medications, many of which can cause dry mouth. The mouth needs saliva to protect the teeth from decay and prevent oral infections. If left untreated, chronic dry mouth can lead to gum disease and cavities. Also, because these conditions make it difficult to eat, you may develop malnutrition.
23 percent of people between the ages of 65 to 74 have severe gum disease. Gum disease is dangerous, not only because the infection may spread elsewhere in the body, but because it can make eating solids and even drinking fluids painful.
Specific Ailments Linked to Oral Health
Many conditions are closely related to poor oral care. Maintaining a good oral health routine can help older adults treat and possibly eliminate instances of certain illnesses. Here are a few of the most common ailments linked to oral health.
When you have an infection in your mouth, or when there are remaining particles of food in your mouth, the food and bacteria can be aspirated into the lungs. This process can lead to an infection of the lungs, also known as pneumonia.
Oral infections can make blood sugar levels rise, potentially leading to diabetes. Diabetes is treatable but not curable, so it is important to get regular screenings for oral infection. It’s also important to remember that preexisting diabetes can lead to gum disease, infection, and tooth decay.
An infection in the mouth can travel to the inner lining of the heart. This condition is known as endocarditis. Although endocarditis can be treated with antibiotics, it does put undue strain on the heart.
Oral cancer’s first warning sign is usually a growth or a sore in the mouth that does not heal. This type of cancer is strongly linked to smoking and chewing tobacco. The survival rate of oral cancer is good with early detection.
Having an infection anywhere in the body — including the mouth — can raise blood pressure. Get your blood pressure back to normal by talking to your doctor and your dentist. Your doctor may want to put you on medication for a while until he or she is sure the infection has cleared up, and your blood pressure is under control.
Oral Care for Seniors
Even though your teeth may be more fragile as you age, there are many things you can do to take care of them as well as your mouth and gums. Here are a few tips to help you better care for your teeth.
Brush Your Teeth Twice a Day
If you can afford it, buy an electric toothbrush with round bristles to help with thorough brushing. Some people feel pain when they brush. If you have this problem, consider switching to an anti-sensitivity toothpaste.
Gently work the dental floss between your teeth using a sawing motion. Remember to floss under the gums. If you’re new to flossing, don’t worry about a little bleeding from the gums. It will stop as your gums get healthier and stronger.
Clean Your Dentures Every Day
Dentures are magnets for bacteria. It’s nearly impossible to reach all the bacteria using a regular toothpaste. Instead, use a liquid formula made especially to clean dentures.
Stop Smoking and Using Chewing Tobacco
Tobacco use significantly increases your risk of oral cancer and can also lead to infections. Getting rid of tobacco can be a challenge, but is also highly beneficial to many aspects of your oral and overall health. If you’re struggling to quit smoking, talk to your doctor about medications that may be able to help you.
Regular Dentist Visits
Your dentist can take x-rays and examine your mouth for any problems such as cavities, receding gum lines or cancer. Once the dentist addresses any area of concern, the dental hygienist will perform a thorough teeth cleaning. Don’t put off seeing the dentist just because you feel okay. Approximately 1 in 5 adults have cavities and don’t even know about it.
Consider Getting Dentures
If you have missing teeth, dentures may be the answer. They are kept in the mouth by an adhesive. Although dentures do have certain drawbacks, they are an excellent option for older adults with weak jaws and unhealthy gums.
Consider Dental Implants
Dental implants are replacement teeth that are surgically implanted into the jaw. The gums and jaw must be strong and healthy for this procedure to work. They can last 20 or more years before needing to be replaced.
Consider Porcelain Veneers
As you age, enamel wears away, making your teeth appear yellow. Porcelain veneers are a good option to restore your pearly whites. Veneers are shells designed to cover the front surface of the teeth and are stain resistant. However, they may not be a good option for people who grind or clench their teeth as they are delicate and may chip or crack. They last anywhere from seven to 15 years before they wear off and need replacement.
Although the elderly tend to have more oral health issues than younger people, a consistent oral care routine and regular visits to your Las Vegas or Reno dental offices to keep your mouth healthy. If you are experiencing any specific health ailments linked to oral care, talk to your dentist about the best course of action to treat the ailment.