American Seniors – Importance of Oral Health and Hygiene
People of all ages should brush twice daily, floss regularly, and visit dentists at least twice a year for routine exams and cleanings. After all, anyone can develop cavities, gum disease, and other potentially serious oral health problems. That said, seniors are at an increased risk for many adverse outcomes due to poor oral health.
The issue isn't that older Americans aren't taking good care of their teeth, or that senior dental care is somehow less effective. Instead, advancing age increases the risk for most oral health problems, both serious and relatively benign. Seniors can read on to learn about age-related oral health issues and how to maintain a beautiful smile well into retirement.
Common Age-Related Oral Health Problems
Advanced age is not the sole factor in determining a person's oral health, but it can play a role in developing many potentially challenging dental issues. For example, some seniors suffer from medical conditions like arthritis that can make brushing and/or flossing difficult or even impossible. Others take medications that harm oral health.
Whether seniors have most or all of their own teeth or wear full or partial dentures can also play a role in what oral health problems they are most likely to encounter. Therefore, all older adults should keep an eye out for symptoms of common age-related oral health problems.
- Dry mouth can occur due to radiation therapy, medication side effects, and certain age-related diseases.
- Root decay occurs when the roots of a tooth are exposed as gum tissue recedes. Because the roots of teeth aren't covered in protective enamel, they're more prone to decay than the crowns.
- Gum disease is caused by the buildup of plaque. It can be made worse by issues like food getting stuck between teeth, poor-fitting dentures and bridges, unhealthy diets, and prevalent diseases such as diabetes.
- Tooth loss often results from gum disease.
- Uneven jawbones can result from having teeth removed and not replacing them. With one or more teeth missing, the rest can shift into the open spaces, damaging the jaw.
- Denture-induced stomatitis occurs when a combination of poor dental hygiene, ill-fitting dentures, and/or a buildup of Candida albicans causes inflammation of the tissues beneath a denture.
- Thrush is an overgrowth of Candida albicans that occurs due to certain diseases or a side effect of medications that affect the immune system.
Senior citizens need to recognize that none of these issues are inevitable. However, most can be avoided through improved oral hygiene.
Oral Hygiene Tips for Seniors
Everyone knows how vital daily brushing and flossing are to keeping teeth healthy, but these basic home oral hygiene processes are even more critical for seniors. In addition to daily brushing and flossing, seniors may want to use antiseptic mouthwashes and visit dentists more often for cleanings or exams.
Seniors with dental bridges should clean beneath them using bridge floss, and those who wear removable dentures should clean their prostheses each night using a soft-bristled toothbrush. Only use approved products for cleaning dentures, and never leave them in overnight.
Know the Facts About Older Adult Oral Health
The population of US adults is growing in proportion to younger people, and many have poor oral health. The seniors who suffer most from oral health issues tend to be economically disadvantaged, disabled, home-bound, or institutionalized. To make matters worse, many older Americans don't have dental insurance because the Medicare program offers no coverage for routine dental care.
It can be challenging to face these facts, but it's essential. Here's what else seniors and their loved ones need to know:
- Around one in five adults aged 65 years or older experience untreated dental decay.
- Around two in three older adults acquire gum disease.
- Almost one in five seniors have lost all of their teeth, which can interfere with nutrition.
- Health professionals diagnose most oral and pharyngeal cancers in older adults.
- People with some age-related chronic diseases are more likely to develop periodontal disease and less likely to receive adequate dental care.
What Seniors Can Expect During a Dental Exam
Seniors who haven't been to the dentist in years are often apprehensive. Finding dentists for senior citizens can help older Americans feel more at ease, as can knowing what to expect during the first appointment.
New patients should expect to answer questions about their medical and dental histories and recent changes they've noticed in their mouths. They will also undergo complete exams, cleanings, and cancer screenings. From there, the treatment varies based on the reason for visiting the dentist.
Schedule a Visit
Anxiety is not a good reason to avoid the dentist. Instead, seniors who struggle with home oral hygiene or getting to appointments should ask for help from their caregivers.