Why Should Senior Oral Health Be a Priority? 

Any dentist in Placerville, CA, will agree that oral health directly affects a person’s overall health, well-being, and quality of life. Besides getting to eat better, people with healthy teeth enjoy their food and feel confident about how they look and speak.

In contrast, folks with severely decayed or missing teeth lose their chewing power, self-confidence, and ability to speak clearly. While regular brushing, flossing, and rinsing with mouthwash are excellent ways to maintain optimum oral health, scheduling bi-annual visits to the dentist allows them to prevent, diagnose, and treat oral health issues.

a senior smiling after visiting his Dentist in Placerville CA 

What You Should Know About the Aging Population and Their Oral Health

Why Do Many Seniors Suffer Poor Oral Health?

Did you know that adults ages 65 and older account for about 16.5% of the nation’s total population? What’s alarming is that older adults suffer higher rates of tooth decay, gum disease, mouth infections, oral cancer, and tooth loss due to the following reasons:

  • Medicare doesn’t cover routine dental procedures
  • Dental care benefits cease upon retirement
  • Physical disabilities
  • Age-related memory loss and other cognitive conditions
  • Lack of transportation

What Are the Dangers of Poor Oral Health Among Seniors?

Untreated Tooth Decay and Cavities

Besides moistening the mouth for comfort, saliva aids digestion by lubricating food upon chewing or swallowing. Above all, it helps wash away food particles stuck on the surface of teeth while neutralizing harmful acids that lead to tooth decay.

Unfortunately, many seniors experience xerostomia or dry mouth due to certain medications, changes in their body’s ability to process these medications, poor nutrition, and chronic health issues.

Without enough salivary flow to help protect the teeth from bacteria and acids, seniors are more likely to experience untreated tooth decay and cavities than younger adults. Research shows that one in five adults have untreated tooth decay, and nearly all adults aged 65 years and older have had a cavity.

Seniors with severe dry mouth should consult their doctor and dentist right away so they can prescribe medication such as cevimeline (Evoxac) or pilocarpine (Salagen) that stimulates saliva production.

Gum Disease

Did you know that about two in three older adults have gum disease? Also called periodontitis, severe gum disease causes sore, bleeding gums, and tooth loss. Gum disease can lead to poor nutrition and other health issues if left untreated.

With good senior dental care and regular dental exams, dentists can catch the early signs of gum disease and provide prompt treatment.

Tooth Loss

The CDC confirms that 26% of American adults aged 75 and older have lost all of their teeth. Moreover, 13% of adults aged 65 to 74 suffer complete tooth loss. Missing teeth negatively impacts nutrition because people without teeth often eat soft and easy-to-chew foods rather than fresh food options such as fruits and vegetables.

Cardiovascular Disease

Patients with advanced gum disease are twice as likely to be diagnosed with cardiovascular disease, also known as heart disease. Moreover, their risk of a severe heart attack or stroke increases because bacteria from the gum infection could enter the bloodstream and clog arteries.

In addition, bacteria and other germs from infected gums may also attach to the heart’s inner lining and cause endocarditis.

Diabetic Complications

Older adults with poor oral health are at higher risk of developing diabetes. Research shows that oral infection and inflammation weaken the body’s ability to use insulin and regulate blood sugar.

Since too much sugar in their saliva provides the best conditions for bacteria in the mouth to thrive, the cyclic effect compounds the problem. For this reason, seniors with poor oral health and diabetes are likely to experience complications with the disease.

Respiratory Conditions

Oral bacteria can enter the bloodstream, reach the lungs, and trigger respiratory conditions. Older adults with poor dental hygiene and smoking habits are at increased risk of acute pneumonia, acute bronchitis, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Pneumonia is a life-threatening respiratory infection characterized by inflamed, fluid-filled, or pus-filled air sacs in one or both lungs. Symptoms may include cough with pus or phlegm, difficulty breathing, fever, and chills.

Acute bronchitis or a chest cold occurs when bronchial airways swell and produce mucus in the lungs. Unlike pneumonia, acute bronchitis is usually mild and doesn’t cause complications. In most cases, its symptoms resolve on their own.

On the other hand, COPD is a group of diseases, including chronic bronchitis and emphysema, that leads to airflow blockage and breathing-related issues. While COPD is incurable, it’s treatable.

Oral Cancer

While seniors are at higher risk for oral and pharyngeal cancer, the risk is even higher for older adults who chew tobacco or smoke cigarettes, cigars, or pipes. However, regular dental visits allow the dentist to catch problems early.

Dementia

Poor oral hygiene leads to increased oral bacteria and gum disease. Besides causing inflammation, gum disease raises the risk of beta-amyloid plaques in the brain until it ultimately results in dementia.

Although dementia isn’t a specific disease, it refers to a group of conditions that cause damage to the brain cells. The damage negatively impacts how a person thinks, feels, communicates, and behaves. Symptoms of dementia include limited social skills, impaired thinking abilities, and forgetfulness that interferes with daily functioning.

a senior couple smiling after seeing their Dentist in Placerville CA 

What Can Older Adults Do to Improve their Oral Health?

Schedule regular dental appointments.

Infrequent visits to the dentist, or no visits at all, will allow time for oral health issues to worsen. For this reason, seniors should make bi-annual appointments for cleanings or as directed by their dental care provider, especially if they wear dentures or other oral appliances. During these appointments, the dentist can discuss the kind of care needed for their teeth and what

Maintain Excellent Oral Hygiene Habits

Brushing at least twice a day, flossing every day, and rinsing with antiseptic or antibacterial mouthwash two times a day should be a well-established oral hygiene routine for seniors who want to improve their oral health.

Take Calcium Supplements

Older adults should take calcium supplements to maintain the best possible oral health. Besides combating osteoporosis, increasing calcium intake can help keep their teeth strong and healthy.

Avoid Using Tobacco Products

Quitting tobacco allows seniors to avoid tooth decay, oral cancer, and other serious health issues. Luckily, dentists can help tobacco users develop a plan for cessation.

Hydrate Often

Increasing water intake allows seniors to avoid dry mouth, which leads to enamel erosion. If dry mouth is a side effect of medications, they can ask their doctor to switch their meds if necessary.

a senior patient at the Dentist in Placerville CA 

Do You Need to See a Dentist in Placerville, CA?

At Forest Ridge Dental, our goal is to make your dental experience exceptional. Contact us today to make an appointment.