As people get older, it’s not uncommon for certain aspects of daily life to fall by the wayside. Unfortunately, proper dental care is one of the major elements of personal hygiene and health that is sometimes avoided or ignored by many older adults. Dental health is ultimately linked to whole-body wellness and health, that’s why it’s vitally important that we educate older adults about this issue and find ways to remind them or help them maintain proper oral care.
Whether the person lives in a senior living community or chooses to age at home, there are many factors that can contribute to poor dental hygiene and care. Simply remembering to keep up with a hygiene regimen can be difficult, and this is compounded by other issues, such as dry mouth, a common side effect of many over-the-counter medications that older adults take regularly. Dry mouth reduces the production of saliva, which actually makes it easier for bacteria to grow and damage the teeth and gums.
Reasons to focus on proper senior dental care
Even simple dental issues, such as dry mouth and gum disease, can directly impact the health of the rest of the body and need to be taken seriously. Ultimately, it’s just as important for older adults to care for their teeth and gums as it is their digestive and heart health.
Age itself isn’t always a factor in oral health. Medical conditions like arthritis can make brushing or flossing teeth and gums difficult or even impossible to perform. In addition, some people are genetically predisposed to dental and periodontal issues.
Here are some reasons dental care is so important for older adults:
Studies show that there is a concrete link between periodontal disease (a.k.a., gingivitis or gum disease) and heart disease. According to the American Academy of Periodontology, the presence of gum disease can increase your likelihood of a heart attack, stroke and other heart conditions. This means that maintaining proper oral hygiene and care is vital to preventing these conditions.
In fact, one study found that poor dental hygiene – even simple issues such as cavities and gum disease – are as accurate as measuring cholesterol levels when it comes to determining a person’s risk for heart disease.
Poor oral and dental hygiene/health has also been connected to pneumonia in older adults. Because air has to pass through the mouth and throat to enter the lungs, it’s possible for a person to inhale bacteria into their lungs. Older adults are more susceptible to this problem due to weakened immune systems when compared to a younger person. Proper oral hygiene and care is the best way to reduce the amount of this potentially harmful bacteria.
Serious gum disease (a.k.a., periodontitis) can limit the body’s ability to properly utilize insulin. In addition, high blood sugar – a common side effect of diabetes – can cause gum infections in the first place. This is another reason why proper oral hygiene and care are important, and regular checkups with the dentist can prevent this condition.
Stained or Darkened Teeth
As people get older, dentin, a bone-like tissue underneath the enamel layer of our teeth, begins to change due to the foods and beverages we eat and drink. A combination of staining (commonly due to things such as smoking, coffee, soft drinks, etc.) and a thinning of the outer enamel can cause the teeth to darken.
Gum disease is one of the most common consequences of poor oral care and is most often the result of not removing plaque (a bacterial film that builds up on and between teeth). Gum disease can also result from poor diet, tobacco use, ill-fitting bridges or dentures, as well as certain diseases such as anemia, cancer and diabetes.
As previously stated, dry mouth is a fairly common side effect of many over-the-counter and prescription medications that many seniors have to take, as well as other things such as cancer treatments around the head and neck areas. Saliva plays a key role, as it keeps the mouth wet and prevents infections by limiting the number of bacteria, fungi and viruses in the mouth.
Root decay is another common problem in older adults and can be the result of several factors. Acidic foods wear away the enamel of our teeth, and as we get older it’s common for the gums to recede (which can be exacerbated by gum disease). As gums recede, tooth roots may become exposed, and because the roots don’t have a protective enamel layer, they are susceptible to decay.
How to improve senior dental care
Almost everyone knows that brushing and flossing after meals or at least twice a day positively impacts our oral health, but there are other ways to maintain proper oral health. Here are some useful tips from the American Dental Association:
- Brush twice a day with a soft bristle toothbrush and fluoride-containing toothpaste.
- Use an electric toothbrush since it is easy to use and more effective at removing plaque.
- Clean between your teeth once a day with floss or another interdental cleaner (such as a Waterpik).
- Rinse with an antiseptic mouthwash once or twice a day.
- If you wear full or partial dentures, remember to clean them on a daily basis.
- Take your dentures out of your mouth for at least four hours every day and know that it’s best to remove them at night.
- Drink tap water – Since most contains fluoride, it helps prevent tooth decay no matter your age.
- Quit smoking – Besides putting you at greater risk for lung and other cancers, smoking increases problems with gum disease, tooth decay and tooth loss.
- Visit the dentist on a regular schedule for a complete dental check-up, cleaning and oral exams.
- Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet that includes dairy and high-fiber foods.
Oral Health Care Through The Legacy Senior Communities
The Legacy Senior Communities is dedicated to promoting and maintaining the oral health of all those we serve. Whether it’s through one of our communities, The Legacy Willow Bend (a Life Care Retirement Community in Plano), or The Legacy Midtown Park (our Rental Retirement Community currently under construction in Dallas) or whether it’s one of the many Dallas-area seniors we serve through The Legacy at Home (our Medicare-certified home health care agency), we understand that a personal approach to wellness is the most effective way to ensure that seniors stay active, happy and healthy.
If you are interested in learning more about The Legacy Senior Communities, call us at (972) 468-6160.
If you would like to learn more about The Legacy Willow Bend, you can call (972) 468-6208 or visit our website www.thelegacywb.org to schedule a tour.
For more information about our home health care agency, The Legacy at Home, call (972) 244-7700 or visit our website www.thelegacyathome.org to learn more.