Ageing and dental health
5 Jun 2019

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Ageing and Dental Health

Your oral health is directly connected to your overall health. And as you get older, it becomes increasingly important to ensure good dental and oral health. Many people mistakenly believe that tooth loss is a natural component of ageing. This is simply a myth. Just as regular brushing and flossing, as well as routine dental visits are critical for preventing cavities in children, good dental habits can help ensure that your teeth last a lifetime. Good oral hygiene is even more important for seniors as it reduces the risk of more serious health problems, including diabetes, pneumonia, and heart disease.

Teeth and Ageing

The ageing process can be tough on your teeth, gums, and mouth, just as it is on your other body parts. As you get older, you become more susceptible to plaque buildup, in addition to the weakening and cracking of older fillings. Your teeth also tend to become brittle due to reduced remineralization. Many seniors also report diminished muscular control, which makes chewing difficult and increases denture slippage for wearers. Seniors are also at greater risk of developing periodontal disease.

Although these factors indicate an increased risk of oral problems for seniors, this is not necessarily the case for healthy individuals. In fact, a recent study in Ontario found that most people (69%) don’t consider poor oral health to be a guaranteed consequence of old age. Instead, they argue that the good habits that helped keep their mouths healthy when younger are still the ones that help to keep them healthy throughout life.

As such, practice vigilant oral hygiene at home. This includes regular and thorough brushing, using a fluoridated toothpaste and flossing at least once a day, as well as visiting your dentist every six months for a comprehensive oral examination and professional cleaning to prevent the buildup of bacteria and allow for timely repair of worn fillings.

Generally, a good oral care regimen can help to prevent, or even reverse, potentially serious oral disease. And with regular dental checkups, your dentist can detect indicators of various disorders, oral cancers, early diabetes, and adverse drug reactions.

The Struggle for Seniors in Ensuring Oral Care

While healthy and functionally independent seniors can maintain their oral care routine with good consistency, the same cannot be said for feeble or functionally dependent seniors. Seniors who need assistance to maintain even basic levels of personal care, whether living at home or in a long-term care facility, are the most vulnerable to oral diseases because they simply cannot perform their own oral care.

Elderly people with dementia, like Alzheimer’s disease, which increases with age, require consistent, effective assistance to help them maintain oral hygiene, even as their intellectual and memory functions diminish. Unfortunately, many of them are resistant to efforts to assist them, yet they regularly forget to brush their teeth, which causes their oral health to deteriorate. And when they need to visit the dentist for routine care or treatment, many are unable to tolerate lengthy procedures, and even fail to understand the need for treatment.

Importance of Good Oral Health for Elderly People

Most people are aware of the importance of good oral hygiene. You start hearing the benefits from an early age, from your parents and dental hygienist. It helps to prevent tooth decay and cavities, gum disease, bad breath, tooth loss, and much more.

Studies also show a link between gum disease and various systemic or chronic diseases. Good oral health can help reduce the risk of:

  • Respiratory infections, such as pneumonia – Pneumonia is arguably the most dangerous consequence of poor oral hygiene for elderly people. Bacterial pneumonia is the leading cause of death of long-term care residents. Bacteria in your saliva can be transported to the lungs through the windpipe. Effective oral health care can help reduce the risk of pneumonia among dependent seniors.
  • Cardiovascular diseases (CVD), such as stroke and heart disease – Studies show that gum disease increases the risk of CVD. Inflammation increases the risk of disease. Bacterial buildup associated with gum disease can cause inflammation throughout the body, which can enter the bloodstream and cause clots that lead to CVD.
  • Diabetes – There’s a proven link between gum disease and diabetes. Diabetics are generally susceptible to contracting infections, which puts them at greater risk than most people in developing periodontal disease. Moreover, oral infections have been shown to increase the severity of diabetes by increasing blood sugar level, which causes complications such as premature degeneration of nerves, kidneys, eyes, and blood vessels.
  • Malnutrition – Researchers have observed that poor oral health in older adults can lead to malnutrition because of their limited access to a wide variety of nutritious foods as a reaction to pain, discomfort, or tooth loss. Poor dental health also causes mouth soreness, difficulty eating, and taste problems, which can lead to dehydration and weight loss.
  • Oral cancer – Although oral cancer can strike at any age, it’s seven times more likely to affect older adults above the age of 65. It’s considered to be more fatal than skin cancer among seniors, yet it can be prevented following early detection during routine dental checkups.

Good oral hygiene can also reduce the risk of xerostomia (dry mouth). Saliva helps to not only lubricate the mouth, but also promote oral health as it contains bacteria-fighting agents, acid neutralizers, and digestive enzymes. In case of chronic dryness due to medications, you should discuss interventions like changing your medication or using products to manage these symptoms.

Final Note

You cannot consider yourself healthy without good oral health. As you get older, it becomes even more important to consider oral health and general health as a single entity, rather than separate entities. Oral health is a vital component of health. As such, it should be included in the pursuit for optimal health.

Good oral hygiene is as important in your later years as it was when younger. Adults and seniors who are functionally able to care for their oral health must do so. Older adults with reduced strength, mobility, dexterity, and other functions should get assistance with their daily oral hygiene. These seniors include those suffering from conditions that make self-care difficult, such as tremors, difficulty swallowing, visual impairment, or inability to grip a toothbrush (due to stroke, arthritis, or Parkinson’s disease).

Book your next appointment with Roots on Whyte Dental by calling us at 888-396-4932 or contact us here!

 

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