North Americans are generally leading longer and healthier lives. Today’s seniors are also enjoying good oral health, keeping their natural teeth longer than previous generations.
Follow the same simple rules that have supported you throughout your life including:
- Maintain a daily regimen of brushing and flossing
- Avoid alcohol or drink only moderately
- Avoid tobacco
- Eat a healthy and balanced diet that incorporates fruits, vegetables and fiber-rich foods.
- Limit sugar-intake
Visit the dentist regularly. Please do ask us any questions that you may have with respect to your oral health and update us on any changes to medications that you may be taking. If you are caring for an elderly parent, ask about ways for you to support their oral health care.
With increased age, seniors can be faced with several major overall problems related to their oral health:
- Age changes; general changes in their body physiology
- Dealing with the effects of disease and drug therapy; seniors may become more susceptible to oral disease such as decay, gum disease and oral cancer. Additionally, increased use of medications, physical and cognitive deterioration and changes in diet may begin to impact oral health.
- Due to an incapacity to be mobile, seniors may not be able to always receive proper and timely dental care.
Here are a few other influencing factors to consider and discuss with your dentists.
Cavities and decay – Due to the lack of fluoride when many of today’s seniors grew up, they had a higher tendency to develop decay at a younger age, and consequently had more fillings than many of today’s younger population. Today, many of these fillings, if not looked after with proper oral hygiene at home, can develop re-decay around their margins. Another factor that leads to an increased incidence of decay in seniors is due to gum recession. Over time, if one is not careful in maintaining good oral hygiene, our gums can significantly recede. As the gums recede, the roots are more exposed and therefore susceptible to decay causing acids.
Gum disease – Gum disease (gingivitis and periodontitis) are essentially caused by the bacteria found in plaque. The research evidence suggests that older patients develop plaque more quickly, but that the majority can prevent and maintain their gums and their health by focusing on good home care and regular preventive care at the dentist’s office.
Oral cancer – The incidence of oral cancer is higher among seniors. Regular dental visits can help to spot early signs of oral cancer and pre-cancerous conditions.
Dry mouth (xerostomia) – Older adults are susceptible to dry mouth, an appropriate environment for bacterial growth. Dryness of the oral cavity can result from a number of factors. Medications can influence the secretion of saliva from the salivary glands. The lack of normal saliva production leads to a very dry environment in the mouth. This dry environment results in an imbalance in the normal bacteria in the mouth and can lead to an overgrowth of microorganisms that result in increased dental decay and soft tissue infections of the mouth. Without saliva, your body losses one of its natural defenses to cleanse the mouth of harmful cavity causing bacteria.
To help combat a dry mouth, avoid caffeine and tobacco. Make sure you drink plenty of water and avoid refined sugar.
Medications – Many Seniors are prescribed medications that contain sugar and can cause dry mouth, both factors that can influence oral disease. Common causes of dry mouth include certain prescription medications (eg. Antidepressants, antihistamines, pain medications, etc.), anxiety states, certain cancer therapies that might involve irradiation of the head and neck, chemotherapy, states of anxiety, Sjogren Syndrome, HIV/AIDS, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, and certain foods and tobacco. It’s important to tell your dentist about any medications you are taking and other possible symptoms, such as abnormal bleeding, taste alterations and soft-tissue symptoms like swelling and discoloration.
Diet – Unfortunately, many seniors may begin to experience mouth or teeth problems that make them less likely to consume a healthy diet which further leads to a negative impact on oral health. Some of the reasons for this include a decrease in appetite, physical disabilities, dementia, such as Alzheimer’s, or untreated tooth decay. All the more reason if possible to for our aging population to try and keeping their natural teeth longer in life. By virtue of being able to use their teeth, seniors make better nutrition choices, allowing them to continue to enjoy a wide variety of foods that further support ongoing oral health.
Health conditions – While diseases of the mouth and surrounding areas are a serious health risk, their relationship to overall general health is often not considered important or is simply overlooked.
Gum disease that is left