Older Adults Should Make Oral Health VERY High Priority.

Posted on Feb 17, 2019 by William J. Claiborne, DDS MS

Whoever said, “Growing old is not for sissies!” surely knew what he or she was talking about. That statement seems to describe the process pretty accurately, for those who endure it!

While the visual signs of growing old – hair thinning (or loss), wrinkles, sagging skin, age spots, and shifting fat – is apparent, those are minor in comparison to the aches, pains, and challenges that persist ‘below the surface.’

From aching joints to loss of muscle strength to poor eyesight to memory decline (and a long list in-between), the aging process adds health challenges that seem to grow in number and severity with each passing year. Sadly, increased risk of tooth loss seems to be part of the process.

A five-year study by the National Health & Nutrition Examination Survey showed that Americans ages 65 and over have lost an average 19 natural teeth with over 27 percent having no remaining teeth (known as being edentulous).

While tooth loss is often perceived as a normal part of the aging process, it is not. Keeping one’s teeth throughout a lifetime is very possible. And, maintaining one’s natural teeth have been associated with living a longer life.

Healthy teeth begin with a health foundation — your gums. Good oral health has been shown to reduce risks for serious health conditions (including heart disease, stroke, and some cancers) elsewhere in the body. In addition to being able to keep your teeth, natural teeth are a bonus to biting, proper chewing, and nutritional intake.

It has also been shown that wearing dentures is a poor method of ‘replacing’ them. Even though they recreate the appearance of teeth and restore function (to varying extents), they can actually contribute to long-term problems.

Without natural tooth roots, which help to nourish and stimulate the jaw, supporting bone structures begin to shrink. Known as “resorption,” this process of bone mass decline can eventually lead to tooth loss. Once resorption begins, unfortunately, it continues. Statistics show that adjacent teeth beside an area of tooth loss have the highest risk for being the next to be lost.

The ‘gum-colored’ base of dentures is also porous. This surface provides oral bacteria with tiny ‘homes’ that become breeding grounds for high levels of bacteria. Denture wearers have higher incidences of repiratory problems, including susceptibility to pneumonia.

RDH (registered dental hygiene) Magazine (https://www.rdhmag.com/articles/print/volume-34/issue-12/columns/infection-control/dentures-and-aspiration-pneumonia.html) shares one study of senior adults and the higher risks for those who also sleep in their dentures.

Too, with the aging process also comes the condition of ‘dry mouth.’ Saliva plays an important role in maintaining good oral health. A healthy saliva flow makes it easy to talk, swallow, taste, and digest food.

A reduction in saliva flow can increase plaque accumulation as well as the risk of developing periodontal disease. Referred to as gum disease, this can lead to tooth decay, mouth sores ,and oral infections. Inadequate saliva can contribute to bad breath, dry and cracked lips, cause the fit of dentures to become uncomfortable, and result in higher oral infection risk.

Almost half of Americans take at least one prescription daily. For adults over the age of 65, nearly 90 percent take one or more. While a number of both prescribed and OTC medications include the side effect of oral dryness for any age, age-related reductions in salivary production causes irritation to oral tissues.

Medications including antihistamines, blood pressure medications, decongestants, pain medications, diuretics and antidepressants typically cause dry mouth, which can create inflammation and higher susceptibility to infection.

Older adults obviously need to make their oral health one of their highest priorities. Fortunately, good oral health is easy to achieve. Daily brushing and flossing and regular 6-month exams and cleanings can help to minimize problems and address those that do occur at their earliest stages.

It is also important to keep your mouth moist. Drink plenty of water throughout the day. Limit foods and beverages that are caffeinated, which are drying to oral tissues. These include coffee, tea, colas and chocolate as well as spicy foods. If you take medications that have drying side effects, use an oral rinse designed to replenish moisture. Also, chew sugarless gum to help promote saliva flow.

Your diet is an important part of a healthy mouth. Evaluate your food intake carefully. Begin by limiting carbs and sugar. While all foods trigger an acid attack in the mouth for nearly 30 minutes after eating, sugar and carbs super-charge the reproduction of oral bacteria.

When teeth are lost, adults encounter a complicated set of issues – and costly challenges that can reach far beyond the mouth. As a Periodontal specialist, I’ve seen how simple measures can save people greatly in treatment time and expense AND prevent problems like gum disease, cavities and tooth loss.

If you have started to lose natural teeth already, let us help you halt the process! Call 828-274-9440 to schedule a consultation so we can discuss how you can regain your oral health for a lasting, healthy smile!

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