As we grow older, a whole new set of health concerns earns our attention and oral health is almost always on the list. Washington Dental Service Foundation has estimated around 75% of adults 60 and older only have a portion of their teeth. Issues like gum disease can lead to the loss of natural teeth, and are common in about 23% of seniors. Here is how you can take care of your mouth as you get old.
What kind of oral problems occur in old age?
As you age, you are at an increased risk of developing the following problems:
Osteoporosis is a medical condition that causes the bones in our body to become less dense and more likely to fracture. Lack of calcium in the body puts us at increased risk of developing osteoporosis as we age. And when bone density decreases in the mouth, our teeth may become loose and fall out. According to the National Institute of Health, women with osteoporosis are 3 times more likely to lose a tooth than women without.
- Trouble brushing teeth
Because of old age, we might have trouble moving our hands and brushing our teeth properly. The problem gets worse with poor eye sight. Moreover, seniors who develop Alzheimer’s might even forget to brush their teeth. This can lead to deteriorating oral health. Hence, caregivers should be patient and should help the elderly brush their teeth properly.
- Gum disease
Gum disease is one of the most common problems that occur in old age. It is caused when the gums surrounding the teeth are infected because of plaque buildup (that develops because of poor oral hygiene habits earlier in life). Gum disease starts from an early stage, also called Gingivitis, in which the gums become swollen and bleed easily. If gingivitis isn’t treated, gum disease becomes more severe and may even lead to tooth loss.
- Tooth decay
You must be wondering if you’re still vulnerable to oral cavities as adults. The truth is that when you enter your 50’s, you’re in your second round of cavity prone years. One common cause of tooth decay is dry mouth, a side effect of over 500 prescription medications. As we get older and develop other health concerns, our daily dose of medications gradually increases. Many of these medications come with side effects that make your mouth dry, reducing the production of saliva, which ultimately increases bacterial activity in the mouth. As bacteria build up in your mouth, you’re more prone to getting oral cavities.
As we age, the enamel coating on our teeth wears out, which makes our teeth more sensitive. This is the reason why we feel a sharp sensation of pain when drinking or eating something hot or cold.
How to prevent oral problems as we age
Just because we’re more prone to oral health problems as we age doesn’t mean we actually have to experience them. Following these tips and adopting healthy habits, you can take care of your mouth and help it age gracefully.
- Brush at least twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste.
- Floss between your teeth once a day.
- Rinse with an antibacterial mouthwash daily. Along with brushing and flossing, antibacterial mouthwash can help reduce bacterial activity and plaque buildup.
- Visit your dentist regularly for oral health exams.
What to expect during a dental exam
Regular dental visits are necessary if you want to make your natural teeth last long and look great. During a visit, your dentist will likely remove plaque from your teeth and gum lines through scaling. Regular scaling greatly reduces your chances of getting gum disease.
Your dentist will also take your history and ask you about any changes you have noticed in your mouth. She will examine your face, bite, inner cheeks, jaw, interior surfaces of the mouth, tongue, and your teeth. It’s recommended that you tell your dentist about any medications you’re taking and ask for advice if the medication is causing dry mouth.
If you wear dentures, your dentist will check them to make sure they don’t cause any irritation, aren’t worn out, and fit well in the mouth.
Financial aid for elderly
In our old age, we often find it difficult to pay for regular dental care among other health expenses that add up on our bills. However, that doesn’t mean we should ignore our oral health. Financial aid is usually available for seniors through dental-society sponsored assistance programs. You can ask your dental society to recommend low cost care locations and nearest assistance programs. You can also receive dental treatments at a much lower price from dental schools and public health clinics.
Whatever you do, just don’t ignore your oral health. Even a seemingly minor problem can be a symptom of something much worse; hence, early diagnosis can save your teeth and in case of oral cancer, your life too.