Senior dental care is a critical aspect of healthy living and well-being for the elderly. This is because oral health becomes connected with systemic health as one grows older. As a result, it has an impact on several types of bodily functions, including cardiovascular health. Discover more about the challenges faced by seniors when it comes to dental health and oral hygiene. Bloom discusses the importance of good senior dental care and offers practical tips about how to keep your teeth and gums healthy in your golden years.
The importance of dental care for seniors
People become more susceptible to various dental problems as they age, like gum disease, tooth decay and cavities. This can contribute to pain and discomfort, leading to difficulties in eating and other health-related issues. Furthermore, poor oral hygiene can exacerbate existing health problems, like heart disease or diabetes. It’s highly advisable for seniors to take care of their dental health in order to maintain a good quality of life and reduce their risk of developing serious health issues.
Common senior dental problems
There are several types of dental problems that become increasingly prevalent as individuals grow older. Some of these include:
- Periodontitis. This is an advanced stage of gum disease. It’s characterised by intense inflammation of the tissues surrounding the teeth and is caused by extended exposure to plaque, which is a sticky film of bacteria. The plaque contributes to the breakdown of the connective tissue and bone supporting the teeth. As a result, pockets form between the teeth and gums, which facilitates bacterial growth and causes even more damage. Common symptoms include swollen and bleeding gums, persistent bad breath, and eventual tooth loss.
Periodontitis is also linked to conditions like cardiovascular disease because of the inflammatory substances. The body responds with an immune reaction as the elderly person’s gums become infected. Chronic inflammation can enter the bloodstream, which has a negative impact on the cardiovascular system. It can contribute to the development of atherosclerosis and increase the individual’s risk of heart disease and stroke. Oral bacteria from periodontitis can enter the bloodstream, form clots and impact blood vessel function.
- Tooth decay. Seniors are more susceptible to tooth decay, or cavities, due to reduced saliva production, which has an important role in neutralising acids. Reduced saliva means that these acids build up, resulting in cavities. In addition, certain types of medication can also contribute to tooth decay. Ageing also leads to receding gums, exposing tooth roots, which in turn can start to decay.
- Dry mouth, or Xerostomia. This a medical condition characterised by a lack of sufficient saliva in an individual’s mouth, which then leads to bacterial growth and contributes to tooth decay and gum disease. In addition to preventing tooth decay, saliva also aids in digestion, speech and swallowing. As one grows older, saliva production decreases. In addition, certain types of medication that are taken for age-related conditions can contribute to dry mouth.
- Tooth sensitivity. Seniors can experience sensitivity to hot or cold beverages or food. This is because the protective enamel on teeth wears down after years of wear and tear.
- Denture problems. Seniors often face denture problems. Sometimes, poor-fitting dentures can lead to discomfort, sores, and difficulty chewing. As people age, there are changes that occur to the structure of a person’s jaw and gums. This can cause dentures to become loose, resulting in pain and discomfort. More concerning is the risk of inflammation if dentures are not cleaned properly. This can lead to more serious oral health issues. Dentures are also susceptible to breaks and general wear and tear over time, which affects their functionality.
- Oral infections. As people age, their immune system tends to weaken. This makes an individual more susceptible to oral infections, like thrush, as well as bacterial and fungal infections.
- Root decay. This is quite prevalent among the elderly as the gums recede and the tooth roots are exposed. The softer, less mineralised root surfaces become susceptible to decay.
Senior dental care tips
Elderly people can ensure good senior dental care by taking note of their oral health and using preventative measures to decrease their risk of dental problems. Some of the dental care tips include:
- Regular dental check-ups. Seniors should aim to visit their dentist every six months. The dentist can examine their teeth and take a course of action if they detect any health issues. It’s also recommended that an oral hygienist conducts regular teeth cleaning during each check-up.
- Brushing and flossing. It’s recommended that seniors brush twice daily, using a soft-bristle toothbrush. Flossing should be done daily. This helps remove plaque and food particles that are stuck between the teeth and is crucial for preventing gum disease and tooth decay.
- Staying hydrated. Drinking water can help with dry mouth and improve saliva production in an individual’s mouth. Ideally, an adult should try to consume two litres of water each day.
- Denture care. Prevent harmful bacterial production with proper denture care techniques. Dentures should be removed and cleaned daily using soap, cold water and a soft brush. Ideally, they should be allowed to soak overnight to allow the gums to rest. Dentures should be regularly inspected for cracks or damage so a dental technologist can make adjustments, if necessary.
- Diet and nutrition. Seniors should limit their intake of food and beverages with high sugar content, and those that are quite acidic. These substances contribute significantly to tooth decay and enamel erosion. Elderly people should be particularly committed to sticking to a nutritious, balanced diet that includes lean protein, dairy, healthy fats, whole grains and fresh fruit and vegetables. Not only does this contribute to positive senior dental care but it also assists with overall good health.
- Senior dental care products. Choose a fluoride-based toothpaste and mouthwash that can strengthen tooth enamel and prevent decay. If an individual does suffer from dry mouth, the dentist can recommend saliva substitutes to alleviate the symptoms.
Make senior dental care a priority
Poor dental care has serious health complications, especially for the elderly. Prioritise senior dental care with Bloom’s dental and oral health care tips. Contact Bloom’s trained consultants to discuss your health insurance options with dental benefits. Momentum Health4Me Gold and Silver offer basic and emergency dental benefits from the approved Health4Me Dental Network.