Senior Dental Care
As we age, we may find that more and more dental problems crop up. Cracked or broken teeth, root canals, possibly even needing dentures, it seems like the mouth is yet another place where the ravages of age take their slow, grinding toll. The amount of care and effort that it seems to take can lead to many ending up neglecting their mouths altogether. After all, you might think, if it’s inevitable I’ll lose my teeth, why should I care? But what many of us may not know, or fail to consider altogether, is that oral health problems can very quickly become very serious.
What many people may not know is that, according to the American Dental Society, losing our teeth is not a guarantee as we age. With good dental care and recommended check ups, we can keep our original teeth throughout our entire lives. With that said, however, the ADA does also point out that the dangers of periodontal, or gum disease, increases with age. The best estimates by the Centers for Disease Control are that nearly half of the population aged 40 and over have at least mild periodontitis, with nearly two-thirds of adults 65 and older having moderate to severe periodontitis.
With most seniors being concerned with things like high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, or the possible development of dementia, it’s understandable why oral health might sometimes fall by the wayside. But the health of our mouths are a good indicator of the overall health of our bodies, and so dental care should never be neglected.
Research is making strong connections between poor oral health, and poor general health. For example, chronic inflammation is one of the top reasons that degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s, heart disease, strokes, or diabetes get worse. Research has shown that gum disease, which is a big cause of chronic inflammation, may lead to even worse Alzheimer’s later in life than those without gum disease. And while gum disease and other oral disorders are not direct causes of degenerative neurological diseases, there’s a strong association between gum disease and Alzheimer's risk.
Because the consequences of poor oral health can be severe, it is critical for caregivers to encourage their older adult charges to receive the best possible dental care. When a senior has not been to the dentist in a while, it may be difficult to convince them to make an appointment for a checkup. Many people are scared of or anxious to go to the dentist, and for seniors who are usually set in their ways, this can be worse. Options of sedated dentistry exist for the truly frightened, as do dentists specializing in senior care who can help put the patient at ease.
Reminding loved ones to brush their remaining teeth or care for their dentures is easy enough, but assisting them with the tasks if they’re unable or resistant to doing it on their own is best. Wear disposable gloves while assisting them with brushing, and keep a look out for any wounds, sores, or other abnormalities.