13 Sep Dental Health in Older Adults
As you grow older, it is important to maintain good oral hygiene to keep your teeth, gums, and mouth healthy for a lifetime. Furthermore, there is a connection between oral health and overall health. Research indicates an unhealthy mouth may increase the risk for serious health problems such as heart disease and stoke.
Unfortunately many older adults neglect their dental health for a variety of reasons. Upon enrolling in Medicare at age 65, most seniors lose dental benefits from a private insurer (Medicare does not cover dental procedures). In addition, seniors who are disabled, homebound, living in a long-term care facility, or at an economic disadvantage also experience a higher rate of poor dental health.
Oral Health Problems in Seniors
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) oral health problems in older adults include:
- Tooth decay (cavities).
- Gum disease. About 68% of adults aged 65 or older have gum disease.
- Tooth loss. Nearly 1 in 5 adults 65 or over have lost all of their teeth.
- Oral cancer. The median age at diagnosis for mouth cancer is 62.
- Dry mouth. While aging is not a cause for dry mouth, many older adults take various medications which can cause dry mouth–a condition which can lead to tooth decay.
The CDC gives these tips to help maintain a healthy mouth, teeth, and gums:
- Drink fluoridated water and use fluoride toothpaste. Fluoride provides protection against dental decay at any age.
- Practice good oral hygiene. Brush teeth thoroughly and floss to reduce dental plaque which can help prevent periodontal disease.
- Visit your dentist on a regular basis, even if you have no natural teeth and have dentures. Professional care helps to maintain the overall health of the teeth and mouth, and provides for early detection of pre-cancerous or cancerous lesions. Many dentists will give some discount for patients who have no insurance.
- Avoid all tobacco products. In fact, smokers have seven times the risk of developing periodontal disease compared to non-smokers. Furthermore, tobacco use in any form—cigarettes, cigars, pipes, and smokeless (spit) tobacco—increases the risk for periodontal disease, oral and throat cancers, and oral fungal infection (candidiasis). Spit tobacco containing sugar also increases the risk of cavities.
- Limit alcohol. Drinking a high amount of alcoholic beverages is a risk factor for oral and throat cancers. Using alcohol and tobacco together are the primary risk factors for these cancers.
- Caregivers should perform daily oral hygiene for elders who are unable to perform these activities independently.
- See a doctor if you experience sudden changes in taste and smell. Do not pass off any changes as a sign of aging.
- If medications produce a dry mouth, ask your doctor if there are other drugs that can be substituted. Drink plenty of water, chew sugarless gum, and avoid tobacco and alcohol to help increase saliva production.