Why Oral Health in Older Adults is Important

Senior Couple In Bathroom Brushing Teeth for Oral Health

Despite juvenile health being society’s primary focus while marketing oral health, tooth decay is not just a problem for adolescents. It can happen to anyone as long as you have natural teeth. Dental plaque is a sticky film of bacteria that can build up on teeth. Plaque produces acids that, over time, eat away at the tooth’s hard outer surface and create a cavity.

Even teeth that already have fillings are at risk. Plaque can build up underneath a chipped filling and cause new decay. And if you are experiencing gum decay, a diagnosis in which gums have pulled away from the teeth, the exposed tooth roots are also vulnerable to decay.

You are able to protect your teeth against decay. Here’s how:

  • Use toothpaste that contains fluoride. Fluoride can prevent tooth decay and also heal early decay. And it is just as helpful for adults as it is for children. Be sure to brush twice daily. This will help remove dental plaque that forms on teeth.
  • Drinking fluoridated water also helps prevent tooth decay in adults.
  • Floss regularly to remove plaque from between teeth.  Or use a device such as a special brush or wooden or plastic pick recommended by a dental professional.
  • See your dentist for routine check-ups. If you are at a higher risk for tooth decay (for example, if you have a dry mouth because of medicines you take), your dentist or dental hygienist may give you a fluoride treatment such as a varnish or foam during the office visit. Or, the dentist may tell you to use a fluoride gel or mouth rinse at home.

For all people, especially older adults, we must keep in mind that poor oral health equals poor overall health. The American Dental Association has some very informative statistics about the oral conditions and health of older adults.

Older adults have:

  • More tooth decay
  • More tooth loss
  • More gym disease
  • Less ability to keep mouth and teeth clean
  • Fewer dental visits

76% of older adults’ dental costs are paid out of pocket

38% of older adults perceived their oral health as fair or poor

40% of older adults have not seen a dental provider in the last year

A very common issue faced by many older adults is dry mouth. Dry mouth is the condition of not having enough saliva, or spit, to keep the mouth wet.  Eating, swallowing, and even talking can be much more challenging without enough saliva. In addition, dry mouth also increases the risk for tooth decay because saliva helps keep harmful germs that cause tooth decay and other oral infections in check. Saliva also contains minerals (calcium and phosphate) that can help reverse early decay.

It is common for older adults to wear dentures. Dry mouth can make dentures very uncomfortable and they may not fit as well.  Without enough saliva, dentures can also rub against the gums and cause sore spots.

It’s important to know that dry mouth is not part of the aging process itself.  However, many older adults take medications that can dry out the mouth.  And older adults are also more likely to have certain conditions that can lead to oral dryness.

Here are some causes of dry mouth:

  • Side effects of medicines. Hundreds of medicines can cause the salivary glands to make less saliva. Medicines for high blood pressure and depression often cause dry mouth.
  • Disease. Some diseases affect the salivary glands. Sjögren’s Syndrome and HIV/AIDS can cause dry mouth.
  • Radiation therapy. The salivary glands can be damaged if they are exposed to radiation during cancer treatment.
  • Chemotherapy. Drugs used to treat cancer can make saliva thicker, causing the mouth to feel dry.
  • Nerve damage. Injury to the head or neck can damage the nerves that tell salivary glands to make saliva.

If you think you have dry mouth, see a dentist or physician. He or she can try to determine what is causing your dry mouth and what treatments might be helpful. For example, if dry mouth is caused by a medicine, your physician might change your medicine or adjust the dosage.

Your dentist or physician also might suggest that you keep your mouth wet by using artificial saliva, sold in most drug stores/pharmacies. Some people benefit from sucking sugarless hard candy or chewing sugarless gum.

It’s important to maintain dental health starting at a young age. This will prevent problems as you get older. To schedule a routine cleaning, or catch up on oral health for an elderly adult, call or request an appointment online at Eagle Rock Dental Care today!

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