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Oral health in older adults

Routine visits to the dentist may help us have clearer thoughts; recent studies have linked oral health with cognitive well being. As well as oral health problems have been linked to disease elsewhere in the body.

Poor oral health may contribute to heart disease, due to the spread of bacteria, while diabetes and HIV/AIDS can exacerbate oral health problems by reducing the body’s resistance to infection.

As the older population continues to expand, oral health has become an important area of study. This due to as one gets older, certain oral conditions not present when you were younger might develop.

These include:

  • Dry mouth which can be a result from physical changes within the body as it ages, but can also be caused by medications. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over 400 commonly used medications can contribute to dry mouth. This increases the risk for oral disease, as saliva helps kill bacteria and rebuild enamel.
  • Attrition otherwise known as simple wear and tear, many years of chewing and grinding can take their toll on an aging set of teeth. As enamel wears down, the risk for cavities increases.
  • Disease like oral cancer and less serious illnesses, such as thrush, which is an abnormal growth of fungus in the mouth.
  • Root decay often accompanied by gum disease, the roots of your teeth may become exposed as your gums recede, leading to an increased rate of decay as you age.

Aging apart from taking a toll on our teeth, takes a toll on our mental health as well. In fact 36% of people in the US aged over 70 years are living with some degree of cognitive decline.

Amongst these older adults with significant cognitive decline there exist high rates of oral disease and even higher among those with cognitive impairments like dementia

Studies have shown that oral health measures, such as the number of teeth, the number of cavities and the presence of gum disease, may reflect the risk of cognitive decline or dementia.

Although thanks to the availability of better oral care tools, such as toothbrushes, toothpaste, and brushes to clean between the teeth, a greater number of older adults are keeping their natural teeth for a much longer period of time. It is important to remember, however, that keeping your teeth in good condition as you age might require some special attention.

Tips for maintaining good oral health as you age:

  • Make sure to be using fluoride toothpaste and or a fluoride rinse.
  • Avoid tobacco due to it being linked to an increased risk of mouth and throat cancer, not to mention heart disease and other serious conditions. Chewing tobacco can even lead to more decay, as many tobacco formulations contain sugar.
  • Ask your doctor if you can substitute your medication for one that doesn’t produce dry mouth. If this is not possible, then drink plenty of water, chew sugar free gum, and avoid alcohol, which tends to dehydrate your body.
  • When brushing and flossing, an antibacterial wash can reduce the buildup of plaque.

 

Keeping your teeth healthy as you age requires maintaining good oral hygiene as well as regular visits to the dentist for dental care. So keep your mind at ease and make an appointment as soon as possible and don’t forget to brush and floss at least twice daily.

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