Dental Care for Seniors: Common Dental Problems Faced by Older Adults and How to Address Them

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Dental Care for Seniors, aside from mental and physical health care is a crucial matter for seniors. However, it seems to be taken for granted, and most people have a mindset that oral problems are a natural part of aging. Though this may be true, there are still ways to avoid enduring these problems.

Importance of Dental Care for Seniors

Dental care should be one of the seniors’ health priorities. In fact, according to an article published in the University of Illinois Chicago, it stated that dental health care is taken for granted especially in low-income communities that have limited access to insurance benefits. This resulted in an increased rate of oral health problems like tooth decay and cavities.

Specifically, dental care is crucial among seniors because:

  1. It helps prevent cavity and plaque build-up
  2. It significantly lowers the risk of tooth decay
  3. Untreated oral health problems can worsen over time causing pain, discomfort, and large expenses.

Age as a Factor Affecting Dental Health Among Seniors

A higher risk of dental health problems is common as we get older. It is because of the changes that occur in our mouth which include:

  • Receding of gums - When we reach our 60s, our gums naturally recede due to the years of exposure to different acids, salts, and sugars as well as constant chewing and grinding.
  • Tearing down of enamel - Just like receding gums, age also affects the teeth’s enamel and starts tearing down gradually as you get older.
  • Less sensitive teeth - At the onset of tooth decay or other oral diseases, you usually don’t feel symptoms or pain until it becomes severe.

Other Factors That Affect Dental Health Among Seniors

  • Mobility problems - Arthritis, joint pain, or osteoporosis can limit mobility which affects one’s ability to perform tasks like brushing or flossing. This can be one reason why seniors get oral health problems.
  • Medications - Some medications trigger oral problems like dry mouth. Antihistamines, diuretics, anti-hypertension, and antidepressants are just a few examples of dry mouth-inducing medications.
  • Not following regular dental checkups - Regular dental checkups help catch any oral problems early while it’s still easily treatable. Missing appointments can result in an overlooked oral disease which can get worse over time.

Common Dental Issues among Seniors

Some of the most common dental health issues that seniors experience include:

Gum Disease

Also known as Periodontitis, this is one of the most common oral health conditions that seniors face. In the latest statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it stated that 2 out of every 3 seniors at 65 and above have gum disease.

Periodontitis usually has no evident symptoms at first but will result in sore gums, bleeding gums, and troubled chewing if left untreated. Getting regular checkups and keeping up with proper oral hygiene can help prevent this from happening.

Tooth Decay

This is another common condition not just in older adults, but also in children. Build-up cavities usually cause this condition due to the bacteria that harm the tooth enamel.

Older adults have a higher risk of getting tooth decay. This is because a dry mouth, which is caused by certain medications for chronic diseases, can increase bacteria in one’s mouth, thus increasing the risk of plaque and cavities.

Tooth Loss

Tooth loss can have devastating effects on seniors as it affects one’s ability to eat food. In this case, s/he will not be able to get enough nutrients needed by his/her body.

Oral Cancer

As our age increases, our risk of getting oral cancer also increases. People who smoke are more at risk of this disease, that’s why doctors always recommend that to stop smoking as soon as possible and never engage in such vices while you still haven’t started.

Dry Mouth

This condition is caused by medications such as diuretics, antidepressants, or alpha-blockers, which are usually taken by seniors. A dry mouth can also be triggered by radiation therapies for cancer. It’s important to tell your doctor if you are experiencing dry mouth to be given the right treatment for the condition.

Oral Hygiene Tips Seniors Should Practice

Dental care is as important as maintaining one’s hygiene. To achieve a healthy mouth, listed below are some oral hygiene tips you should practice:

Don’t forget to brush your teeth

Brushing your teeth twice daily is enough to keep your mouth clean. Preferably, use toothpaste that contains fluoride. For people who have mobility problems, you can use an electric toothbrush to make cleaning easier.

Setting reminders is also helpful to keep up with your regular brushing schedule, especially for forgetful seniors. If you’re a loved one or caregiver, you should remind your elderly to brush their teeth regularly.

Practice flossing

Aside from brushing one’s teeth, seniors should also practice flossing at least once a day to remove hidden bacteria and plaque.

Keep your dentures clean

If you’re using dentures, it’s important to regularly clean them just as you clean your teeth. This will avoid bacteria build-up and avoid further tooth decay. Removing them every night is also highly recommended.

Use mouthwash

Gargling at least 2 times daily after brushing and flossing is also recommended for a cleaner mouth free from bacteria or plaque that are hidden in the corners of the mouth. Look for alcohol-free mouthwash for gentle cleansing and a milder taste.

Get regular dental checkups

Just as physical and mental health checkups, regular dental checkups are also important. Not only it’ll help you maintain healthy teeth and gums, but it’ll also catch any oral diseases at the earliest possible time.

Tell your doctor about existing oral conditions and medications

If you’re currently taking medications or have been diagnosed with other dental conditions, tell your doctor immediately. For example, if you’re experiencing dry mouth due to certain medicines, your doctor may help you treat or alleviate the symptoms.

Quit smoking

Cigarette smokers have a higher risk of getting oral cancer, and the best way to reduce it is to stop the vice itself. It’ll benefit not only your oral health but also your overall health.

Keep up a healthy diet

People who love sweets may be more susceptible to dental problems. To address this issue, try to cut off sugary foods from your diet and focus more on fruits, vegetables, and protein-rich foods.

Final Thoughts

Caring for your dental health is as important as caring for your mental and physical health. Not only do healthy teeth and gums keep you away from diseases like tooth decay, gum disease, tooth loss, or other oral health problems, but they will also give you the confidence to put a smile on your face in front of people.

To achieve good oral health, it’s important to practice the tips mentioned earlier and make it a habit every day throughout your lifetime.

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