Dental Health 101 for Seniors
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that “more older people are keeping their natural teeth more than before.” The data continued to report that this change is due to the fact that today’s seniors are better educated about oral health and are more affluent when it comes to dental visits. As a result, the report concludes, “oral diseases and tooth loos are not inevitable with aging, and that teeth can be expected to last in good condition for all of a person’s life.”
This is welcome news particularly to those who are nearing their senior years. However, citing a statistic isn’t going to do much if people have been lax about their oral hygiene while they were still young. This includes the countless times they skipped on brushing their teeth after a night out of booze and sugary food, or even neglecting to have regular prophylaxis (or cleaning) for their teeth. Given that there are many dental issues that can pop up during their senior years, those who have taken care of their teeth beforehand are able to reap the benefits now.
How Lax Dental Habits Can Affect a Senior’s Life
In the same way that lax dental habits can afflict younger people, they can also hinder a senior from living a more fruitful life. The CDC writes that oral problems “can hinder a person’s ability to be free of pain and discomfort, to maintain a satisfying and nutritious diet, and to enjoy interpersonal relationships and a positive self-image.”
Oral problems are usually symptoms of tooth or gum problems, such as gingivitis or cavities. Meanwhile, those who have ill-fitting dentures, gum disease, infection, or other oral problems, can find it difficult to eat, which forces them to adjust their diet. All these issues could contribute to the senior’s ability to have a positive self-image and may trigger cases of withdrawal from society.
Citing a different report from CDC, WebMD adds that seniors in poor health may need assistance to keep their teeth healthy. The news article reads, “They have lost dexterity, mobility, and tolerance for stress – all of which compromise their ability to take care of their teeth, visit the dentist, or tolerate dental treatment.”
Dental Tips for Seniors
Thankfully, it is not too difficult to take care of one’s teeth, even if that person happens to be of advanced age. With the availability of better oral care tools such as denture cleaners, toothbrushes, interdental cleaners, and toothpastes, seniors are then better adept at addressing their oral needs.
For instance, toothpastes have varying flavors that depends upon a person’s preference and needs. There are toothpastes that are designed to help whiten or strengthen teeth, while there are toothpastes that are designed for sensitive teeth. On the other hand, toothbrushes come in different firmness levels, ensuring that even those with sensitive gums would have a “soft” toothbrush to turn to when they need to clean their teeth.
However, not all oral health issues are as simple to address as changing toothbrushes. Here are some of them.
- Dry mouth – According to the CDC, dry mouth can be the result of over 400 commonly used medications, as well as some treatments or nerve damage. The medical concoction that is the elderly’s prescribed medications can reduce the flow of saliva in the mouth. Since saliva helps prevent infections, heal mouth sores, and protects teeth from decay, a reduced saliva flow can therefore trigger a barrage of oral problems.To get rid of a dry mouth, a doctor may be able to prescribe medication to soothe it, while sucking on sugar-free candy can also introduce more saliva production. On the other hand, drinking water frequently will keep the mouth moist. The use of over-the-counter oral moisturizers such as a mouthwash or a spray is also advised.
- Cavities – Given that the years of grinding down and chewing food would eventually take its toll on a set of teeth, it is no wonder that cavities are becoming common among older adults. Old fillings are also common spots for tooth decay, while enamel in the teeth wears down through the years.Even more alarming is root decay. As the gums recede when people grow older, the roots of the teeth become even more exposed. Roots need more care since they do not have enamel to protect them. All these things result to the fact that cavities are even more common in adults than they are in children. To make it worse, untreated cavities can lead to tooth loss, which then increases even more problem on its own.To avoid this, seniors should practice regular brushing of the teeth with a fluoride-rich toothpaste. They should also avoid food and drinks that can further wilt down the enamel, such as acidic food and beverages like alcohol, coffee, and fruit juices. To further protect teeth against cavities, dentists can apply fluoride gel or varnish.
- Gum disease – Periodontal disease is the byproduct of years of neglect. When people forego regular brushing and flossing, the bacteria can build up in the mouth, resulting to plaque. Plaque irritates the gums and causes them to become swollen, tenderer, and more likely to bleed. If left untreated, gum disease can result to tooth loss and even destroy the gums, ligaments, and bones supporting the teeth structure.If caught early, gum disease can still be treated. However, it is advised that those who have it avoid tobacco products and ill-fitting mouth appliances.
- Physical limitations that hamper regular dental hygiene – Arthritis in the hands and fingers is just one condition that may make brushing or flossing of one’s teeth more difficult, if not impossible. If an older adult is experiencing these limitations, then they can consider other ways of cleaning their teeth.An alternative would be to use electric- or battery-powered toothbrush which limits the movements required to successfully clean teeth. Another option is to get a toothbrush with a large handle so that it would be easier to grip. If these suggestions are not feasible, then an dental hygienist or a dentist may be able to provide more help.