While a healthy mouth plays a vital role in an individual’s overall physical wellness, oral health often gets overlooked when considering a senior’s overall wellbeing. To maintain their health, it’s vitally important that seniors play close attention to practicing quality oral hygiene practices that includes brushing and flossing daily, with scheduling regular trips to visit Drs. Berger and Sheppard.
Successfully managing their oral health can help seniors avoid a variety of potential health problems, while also increasing their quality of life. A healthy mouth can help seniors reduce, avoid, or even eliminate potentially painful problems caused by tooth decay and gum disease, improve their diet, and avoid increasing their risk of developing such chronic diseases as respiratory illness, diabetes, stroke, and heart disease.
Oral Health Concerns for Seniors
The older people become, the more health challenges they experience. For seniors, maintaining their oral health is no exception to this rule, as a variety of oral health concerns can arise for seniors that fail to adequately take care of their teeth and gums. Understanding and recognizing these concerns becomes a vital part of preventing pain and increasing their quality of life. Seniors should be on the lookout for the following conditions:
- Reduced sense of taste. A primary symptom of a variety of oral health conditions, a reduced sense of taste can indicated such problems as tooth decay, gum disease, and denture problems. Occasionally a loss of taste may be the result of use of certain prescription medications.
- Dry mouth. In recent years, dentists have seen the number of seniors with cavities greatly increase. One of the primary causes of this rise in tooth decay among older Americans in the common use of prescription medications that feature dry mouth as a symptom. When the mouth produces less saliva, harmful bacteria in the mouth has a greater opportunity to negatively impact an individual’s teeth and gums, which increase the risk of decay.
- Ill-fitting dentures. To enjoy quality oral health, it remains vitally import for seniors to wear dentures that fit securely into place, and that don’t move out of position easily during daily use. Dentures that fit poorly can greatly increase a senior’s risk of developing gum disease, and can contribute to inflammation that can make eating and talking painful. Talk with Drs. Berger or Sheppard about having your dentures refitted if they become loose.
- Darkened teeth. When an individual’s teeth begin to darken, it could be a sign that the dentin –the center of the tooth that lies beneath its enamel- may have begun to change or has started to deteriorate. This can serve as an indication that the overall health of a tooth has become threatened and it may require extraction.
- Thrush. Seniors who suffer from dry mouth or ill-fitting dentures have a higher risk of developing thrush, a fungal condition that causes the tongue to appear white. While thrush is commonly painless, the condition can become a source of embarrassment for seniors if allowed to persist.
Improving Senior Oral Health
While maintaining a regular regimen of brushing and flossing daily can greatly improve a senior’s oral health, scheduling routine visits with a family dentist takes on added importance due to the increased number of oral concerns seniors face.
Concerned family members should investigate the availability of accessible dental care for their loved ones. Family members should begin their research by contacting their local Area Agency on Aging, which can provide an up-to-date list on available dental programs and services for seniors in the community. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Community Health Clinic program can also provide assistance for families looking to find dental services that are based on a patient’s ability to pay.
It’s important that a senior’s general physician and dentist work together to find alternative prescription medications that don’t cause negative side effects as dry mouth and a reduced sense of taste whenever possible.