Dental health is important at all ages, but it is particularly important for older adults. This is because certain medical conditions, treatments, and other factors can increase the risk of dental problems in these individuals. Dental problems are common in older adults. In fact, people over the age of 65 with natural teeth experience more tooth decay than do people in other age groups, according to Health in Aging.
The dental health problems that seniors face can also cause other types of health issues. Research shows a strong association between dental health issues and high blood pressure.
Knowing the common dental problems seniors face, and how to prevent them is crucial for dental health that lasts a lifetime.
Common Dental Problems for Seniors
A number of dental problems are common in older adults.
Dry mouth is a condition in which the salivary glands do not produce enough saliva. Saliva provides comfort and protection for your mouth against friction sores from talking. Saliva also neutralizes acid and helps rinse away bacteria and other pathogens that can lead to gum disease and tooth decay.
About 30 percent of people over the age of 65 have dry mouth, according to the American Dental Association (ADA). Medication use is the primary cause of dry mouth, which is also known as xerostomia. In fact, dry mouth is a side effect of more than 500 medications.
Properly fitting dentures can promote healthy eating habits. However, dentures that fit improperly make eating a painful ordeal, which can affect your overall quality of life. Ill-fitting false teeth can also rub against your gums, which causes irritation and sores.
The bacteria in plaque, which is the film that grows on the surfaces in your mouth, can irritate your gums. This irritation causes your gums to swell and pull away from the teeth, creating a pocket where the bacteria can thrive. Early gum disease, known as gingivitis, can lead to more periodontal disease.
Left untreated, periodontal disease destroy the gums, bones and supporting tissues that hold teeth in place, resulting in loose and missing teeth. Gingivitis can also cause cavities deep down at the root level.
Doctors diagnose about 35,000 cases of mouth, throat, and tongue cancer each year, and the average age of patients diagnosed with these cancers is 62.
Limitations Affecting Oral Care and Oral Health
Several other factors can limit an older adult’s ability to take good care of his or her teeth. These factors can include:
- Loss of mobility – arthritis, stroke and other conditions more common in older adults can make it difficult to hold a toothbrush, squeeze a tube of toothpaste or use dental floss
- Vision problems – problems with vision can make it hard to engage in basic oral care
- Cognitive issues – people with severe cognitive impairment, such as those with dementia, are at increased risk for cavities, gum disease, and oral infection because of their decreased ability to engage in basic oral care
- Nerve sensitivity – nerves at teeth roots lose their sensitivity, which means infections or cavities may cause significant damage before the person realizes that there is a problem
Tips for a Lifetime of Healthy Teeth
Fortunately, people of all ages can take steps to enjoy a lifetime of healthy teeth. It is never too early or too late to integrate some of these tips into your regular oral health plan.
- Brush – use an electric toothbrush as necessary to help you overcome physical limitations
- Floss – floss holders can help facilitate flossing
- Avoid sugary foods and beverages, which can promote the growth of bacteria in your mouth
- Undergo regular dental cleanings to remove plaque
- Have regular checkups with a dentist, who is trained to work with older adults and to spot signs of oral cancer
Triangle Dentistry, located in Raleigh, NC, provides a state-of-the-art facility that offers exceptional general dental and specialty services guided by empathy of a patient’s needs and desires. Services range from dental crowns to veneers and whitening procedures. For further information, questions, or to schedule an appointment, contact the office at (919) 747-3608.