Oral Health for Seniors

close up of smiling mouth and teethAs we age, we become more at risk for oral health problems. Issues like darkening teeth, diminished sense of taste,  gum disease, root decay, and tooth loss are all common in seniors.

Age itself doesn’t cause these problems, but certain medical conditions that are more common among the elderly do affect oral health. Here are the three most common mouth problems seniors face as they age:

Dry Mouth Syndrome

Primarily a side effect of medications, dry mouth syndrome affects around 30 percent of people over 65. For patients 80 and older, the incidence of dry mouth goes up to 40 percent. Dry mouth syndrome happens when there isn’t enough saliva in the mouth. It can cause mucositis, tooth decay, cracked lips, and tongue fissures.

Some cases of dry mouth come from conditions such as diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, or Parkinson’s disease. However, most of the time, dry mouth is a side effect of medications—and you’re most at risk if you take 4 or more daily pills.

If your loved one suffers from a dry mouth as a result of illness or medication, encourage them to drink water regularly throughout the day. They should also limit alcoholic, caffeinated, or sugary drinks.

Root Decay

Seniors are not only more at risk for decaying teeth, but also for decaying roots. That’s because our gums recede and expose the root surfaces as we age. Also, like we mentioned earlier, a dry mouth can cause tooth and root decay. Another factor in root decay is that many seniors find it hard to brush and floss properly.

Studies show that around half of all people over 75 years need a root canal procedure in at least one tooth. Seniors should practice good oral hygiene, with help if necessary. They should use rotating toothbrushes and high fluoride toothpaste to protect their teeth. Seniors should also go for regular dental cleanings and checkups.

Gum Disease

Also called periodontitis, gum disease is caused by plaque—the sticky bacterial buildup on your teeth. Gum disease often starts as inflammation. If left untreated, the inner layer of the gum separates from the teeth, and bacteria settles into the new spaces. As the disease progresses, the bacteria break down the bone and tissue holding the tooth in place, causing tooth loss.

The main cause of gum disease is plaque. Poor oral hygiene, certain illnesses, and some medications are all factors in unabated plaque buildup. Smoking can also make it harder for gum tissue to repair itself, leaving the gums open to disease.

Since gum disease is the most common cause of tooth loss, make sure to take care of your gums. Seniors should brush their teeth—or have their teeth brushed for them—after meals and before bed. Bacteria loves to hide out on tongues, so make sure to brush your tongue as well. Floss at least once a day to remove food particles along the gum line that your toothbrush can’t reach. Swish and gargle with mouthwash to complete your oral care routine.

Seniors are at highest risk for gum disease and other oral issues, so make sure to see a dentist at least annually to minimize your likelihood of oral problems.

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