Dental Health for Seniors

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Dental Health for Seniors

No matter what age you are, dental health directly impacts your overall health and quality of life. This is especially true for seniors, who can suffer graver consequences in response to dental disease and mouth issues. In fact, one out of 2,600 people is hospitalized for dental infections every year in the United States.

Seniors are also more likely to suffer from dental issues because they can be caused and complicated by certain medications and chronic illnesses such as diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease. Dental health for seniors is a rising issue across the country. Dental benefits often end with retirement and aren’t covered by Medicare. Cognitive decline, physical disability, and lack of transportation all contribute to poor dental health in the senior population.

Common Dental Problems in Seniors

Xerostomia

Xerostomia, more commonly referred to as “dry mouth,” affects more than 30% of dental patients over the age of 65. That percentage increases to 40% in people over the age of 80. Dry mouth can have many causes, but the most common in the senior population are conditions like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s or a side effect caused by medication. Chemotherapy can also cause dry mouth. Xerostomia is extremely common in seniors who have four or more daily prescription medications.

Living with dry mouth is dangerous because it can lead to root caries, mucositis, and fissured tongue. Your saliva contains chemicals that keep your mouth and teeth healthy. When you don’t produce enough saliva, cavities and root caries are more likely to occur.

The best treatment for dry mouth is to sip water throughout the day to wet your mouth and stimulate your saliva production. The American Dental Association also suggests avoiding sweet beverages like juice and soda and caffeinated beverages like tea and coffee. Both of these are stimulants and prone to causing dry mouth.

Root Caries

Root caries is a tooth disease in which the gums recede and then expose the root of your tooth to open air. Caries are caused by bacteria that stick to the surface of the tooth root and cause decay. As we age, our gums tend to recede, meaning that seniors are much more likely to experience the root exposure that causes root caries. Approximately 50% of dental patients over the age of 75 have root caries in at least one tooth.

The best way to prevent root caries is to invest in proper and vigilant dental hygiene. Preventative oral health care includes brushing twice daily, using topical fluoride, and paying attention to your diet. Staying away from sweets and increasing foods rich in enamel-strengthening vitamins can improve dental outcomes tremendously.

Improper Dental Hygiene

Perhaps the biggest issue facing senior dental care is a lack of proper dental hygiene. Since dental benefits often end with retirement and seniors must pay out of pocket for regular dental examinations, fewer seniors regularly visit the dentist than any other demographic. Lack of funds can keep people from catching dental issues early and treating dental issues as they arise.

Cognitive decline is also a leading cause of bad dental hygiene among seniors. Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia both affect memory. And if seniors do not remember to brush, floss, and rinse, bacteria and plaque are going to build up.

Mobility is also a major obstacle to receiving appropriate dental care for seniors in Central Arkansas. Physical disabilities can make it challenging to properly brush your teeth or drive to the dentist. Lack of transportation also contributes to poor dental health. Being unable to get to the store to buy a new toothbrush or drive to the dentist for check-ups leads to dental disease and decay.

Best Dental Habits for Seniors

To help fight off the worst dental outcomes, there are several steps you and your loved one can take to protect their dental health.

Schedule Regular Visits to the Dentist

If possible, it is vital that you schedule regular dental visits for your loved one. Set reminders on their phone or calendar. Enter the appointments into your own calendar. Ask your dentist about confirmation policies and ensure that they are automatically scheduling the next appointment during every visit.

Regular visits to the dentist ensure that your teeth stay clean and healthy. Regular visits also make it more likely that you’ll catch dental issues early on when they’re easier to treat and reverse. The American Dental Association recommends that seniors, like everyone else, see the dentist at least once a year for cleaning and a check-up.

Brush and Floss

Basic hygiene practices are still the most important line of defense when it comes to dental health for seniors—brushing twice daily and flossing once a day keeps plaque and tartar from building up. It also reduces bacteria build-up and the issues caused by that, such as root caries, cavities, and gingivitis.

If your loved one has difficulty remembering to brush and floss daily, try setting reminders on their phone or leaving sticky notes on the bathroom mirror.

Clean Dentures Regularly

If your loved one has dentures, keeping them clean is essential to proper dental health. Dentures must be cleaned daily to prevent bacteria build-up and to remove rotting food particles. They should also be removed every night. Sleeping in them can cause wear and tear and can increase the likelihood of bacterial build-up.

Dental Care for Seniors in Central Arkansas

Are you interested in learning more about dental health for seniors in Central Arkansas? CareLink can put you in touch with the resources you need to stay happy and healthy beyond retirement. From help with transportation to dental health coverage, we can help you navigate and apply for the programs you need. Contact us for more information.