Seniors and Oral Health
Good Oral Hygiene
More and more people today are avoiding the need for dentures as they grow older, bucking the notion that false teeth are a normal part of growing older.
In fact, there’s usually no reason for you NOT to keep your teeth your entire life, providing you maintain a healthy balanced diet and practice good oral hygiene.
Another desirable side effect of good oral hygiene: avoiding more serious problems such as hypertension, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and even stroke. Indeed, medical research is beginning to show that a healthy mouth equates to a healthy body.
And just because you’re getting older doesn’t mean you can relax on your daily routine. This means brushing twice a day, flossing, and rinsing.
Dexterity and Arthritis
People who suffer from arthritis or other problems of dexterity may find it difficult and painful to practice good oral hygiene.
Thankfully, industry has responded with ergonomically designed devices such as toothbrushes and floss holders that make it easier to grasp and control.
You can also use items around the house to help you. Inserting the handle of your toothbrush into a small rubber ball, or extending the handle by attaching a small piece of plastic or Popsicle stick may also do the trick.
Floss can also be tied into a tiny loop on either side, making it easier to grasp and control the floss with your fingers.
One popular flossing alternative is called a water pick, or irrigator.
Water picks use powerful tiny bursts of water to blast away food particles and other debris in hard-to-reach areas of your mouth. Dentists use professional-grade water picks when preparing a tooth for restoration, or in general cleaning and exams.
Having to wear dentures is one of the risks of poor oral hygiene. Older adults also may be at risk for such oral problems as:
- Gingivitis – a condition that occurs when bacteria and plaque invade below the gum line, causing inflammation of the soft tissues and, sometimes, bleeding. Advanced gingivitis can lead to formation of a substance called tartar (also called calculus), which is a hard and crusty coating that can usually only be removed by scraping.
- Periodontal (gum) disease – Usually the advanced stages of gingivitis, gum disease begins with infections in the gums that can spread to the teeth and bones. Advanced forms of gum disease can lead to a host or problems that can only be treated by extreme measures such as extraction.
- Dry mouth – Older adults sometimes experience diminished production of saliva and a condition called dry mouth, which leads to problems such as swallowing or speech difficulty. Certain kinds of medications and even cancer treatment can cause dry mouth. One of the more serious consequences of dry mouth is greater susceptibility to cavities and other oral problems because saliva acts as a natural rinsing agent in the mouth.
- Oral cancer – Older adults are more prone to certain kinds of oral cancer. There are risks factors such as tobacco use and alcohol, and even heredity. But avoiding use of cigarettes, chewing tobacco and minimizing your intake of alcohol can go a long way ion defending against some kinds of oral cancer. Early signs of oral cancer are unusual lumps, patches or lesions, as well as unexplained or chronic bleeding.