A popular saying among both dentists and physicians alike is “Your mouth is the gateway to your body”. These words are so much more than a time honored cliché. They are words that whatever our age may be, we should all try to live by. It is a sad but true fact that failure to maintain one’s oral health can lead to some very serious medical issues down the road. When bacteria enter the body, it will not only harm our teeth and gums, but can also wreak havoc on our internal organs and digestive system. This holds especially true where our seniors are concerned because their dental needs become more specialized with the onset of old age. Our seniors are at-risk for minor medical issues turning into some very big problems. Your mouth changes dramatically as you age. Poor oral health can lead to potentially life-threatening diseases.
Oral health and your gums
Periodontitis, which is the most severe gum disease that you can contract, is associated with chronic health issues like stroke, diabetes, respiratory problems and heart disease. Periodontitis affects more than half of all men and women who are age sixty-five and older. That is downright scary. What is even more frightening is the damage that bacterial infection can cause. Your gums may begin to recede, while at the same time the bone structure that supports your teeth starts to break down.
Gingivitis is more common than it should be among our greatest generation. The great news is that gingivitis is reversible with professional treatment. Symptoms include red, swollen and bleeding gums, particularly after brushing your teeth. Gingivitis can quickly turn into a case of Periodontitis, so do not delay in seeing your dentist.
Another related problem is Root decay. Gums naturally recede a little bit with age. Years of brushing too hard can bring this condition on. Receding gums expose the root surfaces of your teeth, thereby opening the door to decay and damage.
It is a popular belief that old age, by itself, is the reason why tooth loss occurs. Nothing could be further from the truth. Losing your teeth does not have to be a part of getting older. Seniors who practice preventive oral care, see a dentist at least twice a year, have much less to worry about than their counter-parts who neglect their teeth. Just keep on top of things and do not be afraid of being a hypochondriac. When you see or feel something, then say something to your Dental professional.
Dentures are another topic that needs to be looked at, when dealing with Seniors and their oral complexities. Many elderly people wear dentures. It is easy to take dentures for granted. You simply wear them throughout the day and at night place them inside a glass of water. What you should never take for granted is just how easy it is to contract Stomatitis. This is a serious condition that is caused by poor oral hygiene together with ill-fitting dentures that are either too tight or slip when you are speaking or eating. A build-up of the destructive fungus Candida Albican can trigger inflammation of the tissue underneath your dentures. This will lead to nothing good.
Experts believe that there is a link between poor oral health and Pneumonia. They are of the thought that pneumonia can be caused by droplets of bacteria that enter the lungs from your mouth. This holds especially true for patients in hospitals or Nursing homes where all kinds of illnesses are extremely common.
Diabetes and your oral health are also related. High blood sugar increases the risk of gum infection. If you already have Periodontitis, then your body will have trouble absorbing insulin.
Our seniors have accumulated years of valuable life experience. There is not much that can faze them. But, being in your sixties, seventies, eighties or nineties presents its own very unique set of challenges.
When it comes to brushing or flossing our teeth, most of us are on auto-pilot. With only a few effortless movements of our hands and wrist, the job is done in less than a minute. That is not the case, however, for seniors who are suffering from the ravages of arthritis. The stiffness and pain makes even a simple brushing motion difficult to perform. If the arthritic condition is severe enough, it is impossible to grasp the toothbrush. When someone cannot brush their teeth, even once a day, then it is only a matter of time until decay and tooth loss takes place. For those Senior citizens who live alone, this can present quite a problem.
The majority of seniors, even those who are in relatively good shape, are on some form of medication. Hundreds upon hundreds of meds list dry mouth as one of their side effects. Dry Mouth is caused by reduced saliva flow, which can lead to a myriad of issues you don’t really want to have to deal with including cavities and gum disease. Saliva has many useful functions. It keeps the mouth moist and prevents viruses, bacteria and harmful fungi from infiltrating your teeth.
Dry Mouth is also caused by smoking, certain mouthwashes and beverages like coffee, alcohol, soda and acidic juices such as Orange juice. If you are suffering from this condition, your dentist will recommend that you drink plenty of water and chew sugar-free gum. Chewing helps to stimulate the flow of saliva.
Poor nutrition and loss of taste
Not eating right and being unable to taste the food that you eat goes hand in hand as a huge oral health issue for the elderly. As time marches on and you enter your golden years, you will find that some of your favorite dishes just don’t taste like they used to. In fact, you find that no matter what foods are on your plate, you don’t taste anything at all. Old age certainly plays its villainous part here, but significant loss of taste can be attributed to disease, medicinal side effects and wearing dentures.
People lose interest in eating when they can no longer taste their food, which leads to poor nutrition and a whole host of medical and dental problems. Consult your physician and he or she will help you to game-plan a diet that will serve both your oral and overall health. Lean meats, chicken, fish, whole grains as well as a harvest of fruits and vegetables should be staples in your fridge and in your kitchen cabinets. If you are addicted to candy (which can stick to your teeth and is not good for you anyway), cut these treats out. The momentary pleasure that a chocolate bar or caramel candy gives you is not worth the trouble that it can cause.
Seniors on a Budget
The poor economy has in one way or another affected us all. But studies show that its’ effects have hit seniors the hardest. After a person retires from their job, the medical coverage that you took for granted all those years, disappears as well. If you think that Medicare will help out on preventive or emergency dental work, you are in for an unpleasant surprise. Medicare does not cover most dental procedures, especially cosmetic treatments. You are on your own!
If you held a high-paying job and were able to save some money, then you should be alright when it comes to dental check-ups, a cleaning here and there or a cavity filling. Things get a little more financially complicated when major procedures like root canals, implants or veneers are called for. These out of pocket expenses can really eat into your savings.
In the near future, dental.net will post an article that will deal with options that are available for both seniors and younger people without dental insurance. Obamacare, Medicare and Medicaid are not a solution for those men and women who want to take care of their teeth but lack the financial means to do so.
What can you as a senior expect during a dental exam?
For our seniors, it is vital that dentists connect the dots, so to speak, between obvious symptoms that the patient displays and those “hidden” symptoms that the patient may forget to mention or not even be aware that he or she has. This is particularly true for elderly patients who are showing signs of forgetfulness or dementia. Oftentimes, when dealing with the elderly, a dentist has to play Sherlock Holmes, in order to get to the bottom of things and safeguard his patients’ oral health.
During every dental exam, a dental professional should check the patients’ lymph nodes and salivary glands, inner cheeks (to detect ulcers and infections), your jaw, the face and neck, your bite, the floor of the mouth, soft and hard palate, gum tissue and your teeth. Oftentimes, your dentist is the first line of defense when elder abuse may be taking place. Dentists are highly trained to spot abrasions and cuts on the face and inside of a patient’s mouth that might be signs of abuse. Also all dentists provide screenings for signs of oral cancer and this is particularly important for men and women who are in their senior years.
Now, more than ever before, seniors are more active physically than they have ever been. It is not unusual to see seniors working out at your local gym, keeping up with hipsters and millennials. Our seniors are into jogging, running and yoga. In order to live life to the fullest, it is equally important that you take care of the details and do not be a stranger to your Primary care physician or your Dentist. They are the team who will keep you around for your kids and grandchildren and help you to get the most out of life.