Dental health is important for people of all ages, including seniors. As we age, maintaining oral hygiene becomes more challenging—medical conditions like arthritis make brushing and flossing difficult, and cognitive issues cause forgetfulness. Still, it’s crucial to prioritize oral health in older age, when dental problems begin to have a more direct impact on overall health. Here are some examples:
By age 65, about a quarter of adults in the US have severe gum disease, which occurs when the gum tissues become infected, usually after a buildup of plaque on the gums and teeth. People with gum disease are twice as likely to experience heart disease, and it can worsen existing heart disease and increase the risk of developing clogged arteries.
The bacteria that are present in gum disease can migrate to the lungs and wreak havoc on the respiratory system, causing existing lung conditions to worsen or leading to lung infections or severe pneumonia. In general, seniors have a much harder time recovering from respiratory diseases than younger people.
Advanced gum disease, called periodontitis, may hinder the body’s ability to utilize insulin, which is especially dangerous for people with diabetes. Additionally, high blood sugar levels can lead to gum infections, creating a vicious cycle of gum disease causing more gum disease.
Older adults typically experience a reduction in saliva production, leading to dry mouth. A variety of over-the-counter and prescription medications can cause similar conditions as well. Saliva is necessary to flush bacteria, viruses and fungi out of the mouth—without it, dry mouth can cause gum disease and significant tooth decay.
A lifetime of exposure to acids present in food and beverages can cause gums to recede, leaving the roots exposed. And because roots don’t have enamel to protect them like teeth, they are more prone to decay.
Stomatitis is a painful inflammation of the gum tissue beneath dentures, typically caused by ill-fitting dentures, poor oral hygiene, or the buildup of a fungus called Candida albicans. Regular gum health checkups with a dentist can help prevent the disease.
When seniors lose teeth and don’t have them replaced with implants, the jawbone starts to deteriorate and causes the surrounding teeth to shift into open spaces. This results in an uneven jawbone, potentially leading to severe bite issues and appearance concerns.
Preventive oral health for the elderly
Despite the serious health complications that can result from letting dental hygiene slide, maintaining a high level of oral health doesn’t have to be complicated for seniors. Here are some basic recommendations from the American Dental Association:
- Brush twice a day using a soft-bristled toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste
- Use an electric toothbrush if arthritis is an issue
- Floss daily or use another inter-dental brushes to get areas that brushing misses
- Consider using a Waterpik water flosser for plaque removal
- Clean full and partial dentures daily and remove them at night
- Drink fluoridated tap water
- Eat a well-balanced diet with plenty of dairy and foods high in fiber
- Reduce sugar intake, especially candy and soda
- Quit smoking
- Visit a dentist for regular cleaning and exams, even if you have dentures
Dental care for all ages
Whether you’re 1 or 100, maintaining proper dental hygiene is one of the most important things you can do for your overall health throughout your life. At San Diego Periodontics & Implant Dentistry, we understand the unique challenges of senior dental care, so if you or an elderly loved one is in need of a check-up or consultation, fill out our contact form or call us at (619) 543-0905 today.