Lots of emphasis is placed on dental care for babies and young children, but it seems that attention to teeth and oral hygiene slips by the wayside as we age. Unfortunately, this has negative ramifications on seniors’ health and well-being.
In worse case scenarios, seniors lose their teeth, which makes it more difficult to speak and be understood clearly (isolation and difficulty communicating), losing teeth can also affect self-esteem. Then, of course, there is the nutrition factor; when seniors have sore, loose, decaying or missing teeth, it affects how they eat and that contributes to malnourishment.
What Does Dental Care Mean?
By definition, dental care is, “the practice of keeping the mouth and teeth clean in order to prevent dental disorders.” In daily practice, it means:
- Brushing teeth at least twice a day (and after ever meal is even better)
- Flossing after you brush (this helps to remove food that gets trapped between teeth and gums, and that becomes a stomping ground for bacteria).
- Getting a dental checkup at least twice a year (some seniors need to go three or four times a year, depending on the state of their teeth and gums)
- Observing denture cleaning and maintenance requirements to prevent gum soreness, inflammation or poor fit.
If financing is an option, note that Medi-Cal covers basic dental needs through their Denti-Cal program so you may find your dental care is free or very low-cost. You can also seek routine dental care through low-cost dental clinics in your area – many of which will accept payment plans.
5 Reasons Seniors Need to Prioritize Dental Care
Making dental care a priority as we age ensures seniors have strong, healthy teeth, healthy gums and confident smiles for as long as possible. Or, in cases where teeth are pulled, routine dental care means bridges instead of dentures, or more common fittings and adjustments, which increase daily comfort.
Here are 5 reasons why it’s time to make dental care and oral health a priority for seniors:
- Gum disease. Here’s where it all gets started. Gum disease sets in when latent bacteria – much of which can’t be reached by the average daily brushing routine – builds up and begins infecting the gums. Inflamed gums, gingivitis, are the beginning of a long and winding dental road that ends with seniors having their teeth pulled. Gum disease is also linked to…
- Heart disease. What do gums/teeth and the heart have in common? Plenty, it turns out. Adults with gum disease are significantly more likely to have heart disease, heart attacks, type 2 diabetes, strokes and other medical conditions. In fact, according to the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, routine dental care is associated with fewer hospital admissions and reduced medical care costs for people with similar health conditions.
- Diabetes. Those who are pre-diabetic or have diabetes must be especially diligent about observing good oral hygiene and visiting their dentist on a regular basis. Firstly, high blood sugar levels lead to gum infection; secondly, severe gum disease hinders the body’s ability to use insulin. It’s a double whammy.
- Dentures. At some point, dentures and aging became associated with one another. NO! Get that association out of your heads. While dentures are better than no teeth, they are not ideal. Once your teeth are pulled out by the roots, the jaw bone begins to diminish and recede, affecting the set of the jaw, bite and the way you look and sound. Those with dentures also struggle with getting a comfortable fit and painful gum inflammation (denture-induced stomatitis). Keeping your own teeth should always be Plan A. Plan B, if you can afford it, is to get dental implants, rather than dentures, for key teeth. Implants help the jaw maintain its natural structure and strength. If dentures are the only option, get the best set your budget can accommodate so you can eat and speak more comfortably.
- Dry mouth. Dry mouth is a common side effect of many common medications – both over the counter and prescription. This includes certain allergy medicines and diuretics, as well as medications for meds for high blood pressure, urinary incontinence, and depression. Saliva is nature’s first defense against bacteria, keeping the mouth wet so it can soften, dislodge and wash away food particles and other remnants that attract bacteria so they don’t contribute to gum disease and tooth/root decay.
If you or a beloved senior are no longer able to drive to routine dental appointments, contact a local home healthcare provider or companion service. They’ll be happy to pair you up with a safe, friendly, and responsible driver who can drive you to and from appointments.