We all know that the human body goes through various physical changes as one ages. Typically, when we think about getting older, loss of hearing and problems with vision come to mind. But just as the rest of us ages, so do our teeth and gums. And since the state of one’s oral health can affect one’s general health, it is especially important to practice good dental hygiene and keep a close eye on what’s going on in your mouth! Here are some things you should know about your teeth and your oral hygiene as you get older.
Oral Health is Linked to Heart Disease. Studies have shown that inflammation in the mouth, a symptom of gum disease, can contribute to the formation of plaque in the arteries. This type of low-grade inflammation can also increase one’s risk of Alzheimer’s disease, stroke and certain types of arthritis.
Dry Mouth is a Common Side Effect of Medications. Saliva aids in the mouth’s remineralization process, neutralizing bacterial toxins and keeping teeth healthy and strong. So, when a medication causes the mouth to become dry, this can directly impact one’s oral health, which might even lead to tooth decay. Seniors can fight this by drinking more water and using a rinse before bedtime.
An Electric Toothbrush May Be a Senior’s Best Friend. Joint problems, muscle aches and arthritis may cause seniors to be less adept at using an ordinary toothbrush. If that’s the case, an electric toothbrush can make oral hygiene much easier. Interdental cleaners and floss holders are also recommended for seniors who are less physically agile. If you’re in a hospital or nursing home, it is recommended by the Academy of General Dentistry that you or a member of your family inquire about the facility’s dental care.
Seniors Are Often Deficient in Calcium or Vitamin D. This mineral and vitamin are essential for healthy teeth, but seniors may not be getting enough in their diet. For this reason, you should carefully monitor your intake of vitamin D and calcium. Reducing sugar consumption also goes a long way towards decreasing your risk of cavities and tooth loss.
Dental Work Gets Old Too! Just as you’re getting on in years, so is your dental work. See your dentist regularly and have them check up on old fillings. They might be leaking or breaking down, which can cause decay underneath. If you have sensitive or painful teeth, see your dentist immediately! Doing so may prevent more extensive (and expensive) treatment. Even if you have a full set of dentures, you should be seeing your dentist regularly to monitor your oral health. They can check on the fit of the dentures as well as check for signs of oral cancer. Although the biggest risk factors for oral cancer are alcohol consumption and smoking, the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research says that it’s more common in people who are older than 40.
Nothing drives the point home more than statistics, right? Here are a few statistics about seniors and dental health that should encourage all those who are “young at heart” to pay close attention to their oral health.
- Almost 23 percent of people aged 65 to 74 suffer from severe gum disease.
- Approximately 75 percent of adults 60 and older have only some of their original teeth.
- Dry mouth, often caused by over-the-counter and prescription medications, is an issue for 30 percent of older adults. This can contribute to gum disease and tooth decay.
Healthy Lifestyle + Good Dental Hygiene = Strong Teeth for Seniors
While some of this may sound a little scary, with a bit of knowledge, proper nutrition and proactive oral hygiene, seniors can move gracefully and happily into their golden years with healthy teeth, strong gums and beautiful smiles.