Oral Health for Older Adults: Staying Healthy as You Age
Oral health for older adults is becoming even more important than it already is. By the year 2030, 73 million people or 20% of Americans will be age 65 or older. As of 2010, about 25% of people over the age of 65 had lost all of their natural teeth. While this rate has decreased over the past few decades, it’s still important to know that losing your teeth doesn’t have to be a natural part of aging. You can take the right measures to ensure your mouth stays as healthy as possible, and your teeth stay put.
Modern science has yet to figure out a way for humans to grow new natural teeth after they have lost them as an adult. Dentures, bridges and even implants do not compare to your natural teeth when it comes to comfort and durability. Sometimes we tell our patients, “We do the best we can with what we have, but what we put into your mouth is not going to be as good as what God gave you.” This is why one of your main goals, as you age, should be to keep your natural teeth healthy.
Here are a few common oral ailments people deal with as they age, and how to prevent them.
Cavities don’t only happen in school-aged children. 91 percent of adults age 20 to 64 have had cavities, and 27 percent have untreated tooth decay. Cavities are caused by bacteria that eat away at your enamel and erodes your teeth. To prevent cavities, brush twice and floss at least twice per day. Drink water instead of soda or juice, and try to avoid eating things that are sticky
Gum Disease, or periodontal disease, is caused when that same bacteria and plaque builds up in between your teeth and on your gums. The gums become inflamed, and if it goes untreated, the bone structure in your mouth can begin to deteriorate, and you can eventually lose your teeth. To prevent gum disease, it’s important to maintain good oral health practices. It’s also important to talk to your dentist or hygienist about your risk or periodontal disease. Some people are more prone to gum disease because of their age and their daily habits. If you do get diagnosed with gum disease, you’ll need to take the right measures to keep it at bay with regular periodontal visits.
Along with age, risk factors for oral cancer include tobacco use, alcohol consumption, certain viruses (like HPV), and immune system suppression. If you smoke or use chewing tobacco you need to quit as soon as possible, and if you don’t use tobacco make sure you never start. You should also not drink heavily. People who smoke and drink heavily have 100% more risk of oral cancer than those who don’t. Also be sure to see your dentist regularly so they can keep an eye on your mouth and check for any abnormalities.
There have been numerous studies that link the risk of heart disease with oral health. Similar to keeping your mouth healthy, keeping your heart healthy means not smoking and maintaining a healthy diet. While scientists have discovered the link between oral health and heart disease, they haven’t yet discovered if one leads to another. Even without that final piece of evidence, maintaining good oral health means contributes greatly to your overall health—so don’t neglect it!
Dry mouth is a common symptom of medications or diseases, including diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis. Dry mouth can be very uncomfortable, and it may be tempting to treat it by sucking on cough drops or other sugary hard candies. These remedies will only make things worse as they wreak havoc on your oral health. Instead, opt for over the counter remedies such as Biotene and Zylimelts. You should also talk to your dentist and let them know that dry mouth has been a concern for you so they can take the proper measures to make sure your mouth stays healthy.
Good oral health for older adults is achievable. Take the right steps to make sure your natural teeth stay in your mouth and health.