As we all grow older, certain health concerns earn our full attention, especially the importance of oral health for seniors. We get one set of permanent teeth, so it is crucial to take care of them for our entire lives.
According to the Washington Dental Service Foundation (WDSF), around 75 percent of adults 60 and older only have a portion of their original teeth. Issues such as severe gum disease, which is common in about 23 percent of seniors between the ages of 65 to 74, can contribute to the loss of your natural teeth. Risks for conditions, such as heart disease and diabetes, increase with poor oral health as well.
Alzheimer’s disease is one form of dementia, where there is a loss of brain function, which gradually gets worse over time affecting thinking, behaviour and memory function. Alzheimer’s sufferers may forget how to brush teeth or why it is important, so caretakers must be patient and help them take care of their teeth.
Osteoporosis is a common medical issue, which causes bones in the body to become less dense and more likely to fracture. Women who have already gone through menopause are at the highest risk for developing the disease.
When bone density in the mouth decreases, teeth can become loose. According to the American National Institute of Health, women with osteoporosis are 3 times more likely to lose a tooth than women without osteoporosis. Many people who have osteoporosis are given anti-resorptive medications to prevent or treat this condition. However, some of this medications cause a rare but serious condition called osteonecrosis of the jaw that can cause damage to the jawbone.
Gum disease, tooth and root decay, sensitive teeth, diabetes and dry mouth are just some of the conditions that emphasise the importance of oral health in older adults. Let's take a look at these in a bit more detail.
This potentially serious condition occurs when the gum tissues surrounding teeth become infected because of a buildup of plaque on the teeth and gums. Gingivitis is the first stage of gum disease and is recognizable by swollen, red or bleeding gums. Gum disease is a concern for older adults for a number of reasons, including plaque building up on teeth and gums from not developing proper oral health care habits earlier in life. With the proper treatment – including a trip to your dentist – gingivitis is reversible.
In addition, some studies have suggested that gum disease may be associated with an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s. This, along with the other reasons discussed above, makes it important to seek treatment to try and reverse gum disease.
Tooth or Root Decay
Even at 55+ years, adults can still develop tooth decay, or root decay if gum recession has occurred. It is important for older adults to effectively clean the gums, the teeth and exposed root surfaces to remove dental plaque and food debris. The dental practitioner will also scale the teeth at and below the gum line and the root surfaces to remove plaque and tartar from these areas and make them smooth and clean.
At some point, we've all tossed back a nice, cold glass of water only to grimace at that sharp, tingling sensation in our teeth. A number of factors cause tooth sensitivity, including brushing too aggressively with a hard bristled toothbrush, worn tooth enamel and a cracked or fractured tooth. Proper brushing and using desensitising toothpaste, such as Colgate® Sensitive Pro-Relief™ can gradually minimise that sensitivity.
This occurs when there’s a lack of saliva in the mouth, and it is usually caused by medications taken for other medical issues, which can become more prevalent as you get older. The biggest concern associated with dry mouth is tooth and root decay, both of which can lead to and tooth loss.
Just because we’re more prone to oral health problems with age doesn't mean you have to experience them. Here a few important tips:
- Maintain regular dental visits. Even if you're a denture wearer, getting your remaining teeth and gums checked is very important.
- Don't forget to brush twice each day for at least two minutes, and use toothpaste that contains fluoride.
- It is important to floss once daily. Cleaning between your teeth ensures healthy gums and teeth.
- Monitor your sugar intake from sweets and soft drinks, and watch out for starch-filled snacks. Brush shortly after snacking.
- Don't use tobacco. Tobacco in any form has been linked to an increased risk of mouth and throat cancer, not to mention heart disease and other serious conditions.
- Switch to a fluoride toothpaste.
- Talk with your dental practitioner and health professionals if you suffer from a dry mouth. You may need to ask your doctor if you can substitute your medication for one that doesn't produce dry mouth. If this is not possible, then drink plenty of water, chew a sugar free gum, and avoid alcohol and caffeine, which tend to dehydrate your body.
- Use an antibacterial mouthwash. When used with brushing and flossing, an antibacterial mouthwash can reduce the buildup of plaque. Talk to your dental professional about which one may be right for you.
Keeping your teeth in tip-top shape as you age requires a few common sense practices. It is also important is to see a dental practitioner regularly, because he or she can provide even more oral care recommendations and tips. So don't skip your dental checkups.