Dental health seems to be one of the personal hygiene steps that can be forgotten with age. It’s crucial that old aged people have someone to remind or help them in keeping their oral health a priority.
Dental conditions associated with aging include dry mouth (xerostomia), root and coronal caries, and periodontitis. Patients may also show increased sensitivity to drugs used in dentistry, including local anesthetics and analgesics.
Potential physical, sensory, and cognitive impairments associated with aging may make home oral health care and patient education/ communications challenging.
This article will attempt to explain the reasons why maintaining oral health is essential in older adults.
Why is oral care in seniors necessary?
Poor oral health affects an older person’s ability to chew and eat a variety of foods, which in turn causes inadequate dietary intake and weight loss.
In addition to that, discomfort from poor oral health disrupts sleep and ability to relax. It also affects an older person’s appearance, self-esteem, as well as their ability to talk and communicate effectively.
The mouth acts as a portal for disease with tooth decay and gum diseases sharing links with many of the chronic medical conditions experienced by older people such as –
Maintaining good oral hygiene is a powerful weapon against heart attacks, strokes, and other heart disease conditions. An infection in the mouth can travel to the inner lining of the heart. According to the American Academy of Periodontology, people with periodontal disease are almost twice as likely to have coronary artery disease or heart disease. (1)
Aspiration pneumonia is linked to poor oral health. This is made worse by the presence of tooth decay, gum disease, dry mouth, and difficulties with swallowing. By breathing in bacterial droplets from the mouth to the lungs, seniors are more susceptible to the condition. (2)
Severe gum disease or periodontitis hinders the body’s ability to use insulin. High blood sugar, which is an effect of diabetes, can lead to gum infection. The systemic inflammatory response caused by gum disease exacerbates diabetes and increases the risk of cardiovascular complications.
As a person ages, the dentin, or the bone-like tissue that underlies the tooth enamel, changes because of the beverages and foods we eat. Staining and the outer enamel layer that lets the yellow dentin show through can create darkened teeth.
Gum disease is a concern for older adults for several reasons, including plaque building up on teeth and gums from years of consuming a poor diet and not developing proper oral health care habits earlier in life. It is dangerous, not only because it can make eating solids and even drinking fluids painful, the infection may spread elsewhere in the body.
Dry mouth is a common side effect of many of the medications prescribed for older people. It is an uncomfortable condition, as it affects a person’s ability to speak, taste, chew, and swallow food. It increases the risk of tooth decay, oral infections, and aspiration pneumonia.
Root decay is prevalent in the elderly, caused by tooth root exposure to acids from food. As the tooth roots become exposed as gum tissue recedes from the tooth, the root doesn’t have enamel protection and makes them prone to decay.
When teeth are lost and not replaced with false teeth, the rest of the teeth tend to drift and shift into open spaces creating an uneven jawbone, which in turn can create appearance and bite issues.
How to improve senior dental care?
While older people may or may not visit a dental professional regularly, they do interact with a wide range of health care workers who are responsible for assessing and monitoring their health as well as assisting with personal care.
Their teeth may be more fragile as they age, and there are many things they can do to take care of them as well as their teeth and gums. (4)
Here are some tips and guidelines to follow:
- Brush twice a day with a toothbrush with soft bristles and fluoride-containing toothpaste.
- Use an electric toothbrush.
- Clean between your teeth once a day with floss or another inter-dental cleaner.
- Rinse with an antiseptic mouthwash once or twice a day.
- If you wear full or partial dentures, remember to clean them daily. Take your dentures out of your mouth for at least four hours every day or its best to remove them at night.
- Drink fluoridated tap water.
- Quit smoking as it puts you at risk for lung and other cancers, gum diseases, tooth decay, and tooth loss.
- Visit the dentist on a regular schedule for a complete dental check-up, cleaning, and oral examination. (5)(6)
- Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet that includes dairy and high-fiber foods.
The oral health of senior people cannot be ignored. Age doesn’t always negatively affect oral health on its own. Certain medical conditions, such as arthritis of the hands and fingers, may make brushing or flossing teeth difficult or impossible to perform.
Some people are also genetically predisposed to dental problems. Drugs can also affect oral health. It’s important to schedule dental check-ups every six months or more with qualified dental professionals.