One of the very first things children learn about caring for their health is good oral hygiene – that is, brushing their teeth. They are taught to count while they brush, floss every day, not eat sticky foods too often. For some reason, however, many seem to neglect their oral health once they get on in years. Whether because they have physical or mental handicaps, other health concerns that take their attention, or can no longer get to the dentist for regular visits – oral health can decline in senior years. Unfortunately, many do not realize that proper oral hygiene is actually essential to overall health and well-being – especially for seniors.
There are oral health issues that all senior citizens should be aware of – here is why dental care and frequent visits should take priority as we age.
Dental Issues to Watch For
Tooth Decay: Tooth decay is the result of bacteria, too much sugar, and poor dental habits. Tooth decay and cavities are common in young people, but also throughout our lives. 93% of people over the age of 65 have experienced tooth decay and 18% of seniors have untreated tooth decay at any given time.
Older adults have a higher risk of developing cavities as many medications cause dry mouth, which often leads to tooth decay.
Tooth Loss: Approximately 20 % of adults over 65 have lost all of their teeth. Once into your 70’s and 80’s, the risk of tooth loss increases. The main reason for age-related tooth loss is periodontal disease—a disease resulting in loose teeth, receding gum lines, and deteriorating jawbones.
The good news is that periodontal disease can be effectively treated once it is identified, but it does sometimes go undiagnosed and untreated for many years, which is why tooth loss is so prevalent in older adults.
Other Related Diseases
Most people don’t realize just how poor dental health and oral conditions can be the cause of disease and illness in other parts of the body. For example, seniors with periodontal disease are up to three times more at risk to have a heart attack or another cardiovascular event. Researchers have also determined connections between poor oral hygiene and both pneumonia and diabetes.
Tips for Great Oral Health
For many seniors, dental health can sometimes be difficult to maintain effectively. Sometimes physical impairments prevent regular tooth brushing, while mental illness or memory loss can significantly decrease tooth brushing. Medicare often provides insufficient dental coverage depending on the situation, therefore it is important to take proper care of teeth and gums as you age.
- Brush and floss every day: One of the easiest ways to establishing dental health is to brush your teeth twice a day and floss at least once a day. Brushing and flossing help avoid plaque buildup that if left alone with result in decay and gum disease.
- Expert Tip: If it is becoming too hard to properly brush your teeth, an electric toothbrush may be the answer. These provide a more through cleaning than regular toothbrushes, and also handle the brushing work for you. If you often forget to brush, leave your toothbrush out on the counter instead of putting it away. This will provide a visual reminder every day.
- Cleanings and Screenings: Setting up routine dental appointments is also essential for maintaining good dental health; however, many seniors will stop going to these exams because preventative dental care is not covered under their Medicare policy. There are, however, other ways for seniors to access quality dental care, including:
- The Dental Lifeline Network, which runs a program in Florida that gives some individuals a way to obtain free, comprehensive dental care. (Currently closed for applications due to a long wait list.)
- Dental schools typically offer free or low cost dental care to permit their students to practice their skills. The students are carefully supervised and monitored.
- Individuals can opt to pay for dental care out of pocket. A basic cleaning can cost a few hundred dollars, which may seem expensive – but is an important preventative health tool.
Be Aware of Subtle Changes
As you’re brushing and flossing your teeth daily, watch for any changes in your mouth, teeth or gums. If anything new or painful shows itself, especially if it lasts longer than 10-14 days, you may want to schedule some time with a dentist or doctor. Warning signs of dental conditions include:
Difficulty chewing or swallowing
Lack of saliva
Extreme tooth sensitivity (either hot or cold)
Red, swollen or sore gums
Red or white patches in your mouth, including on your tongue
Jaw pain or swelling
By keeping up with your oral health, you can protect yourself from other serious health concerns. As you age, keeping an eye on your teeth and gums is a smart way to protect yourself.
At A Banyan Residence in Venice, we strive to provide a positive and supportive environment for all seniors who choose to live with us. If you are looking for assisted living or memory care options in the Venice area, we invite you to call us for a tour.