Seniors and Oral Health Care – 6 Dental Issues Facing Seniors
The more I write on various issues affecting seniors and independence, the more depressed I seem to feel. Growing older is definitely not for the faint of heart. Unfortunately, it’s part of the human condition. Just a fact of life, ain’t no escaping it. Age brings changes in many forms, so it should not be a surprise that it would include changes in the teeth, gums, and mouth. Why, though, is dental care so important, especially for seniors? Citing research from a number of sources, Dana Larsen, a freelance writer and seniors advocate, shares in A Place for Mom nine problems linked to poor dental care. Included are heart disease, pneumonia, and diabetes. Today, I will be looking at these and other dental issues facing seniors.
- Gum disease – Known also as periodontal disease, it is caused, according to 123dentist.com, by a variety of things including not brushing or flossing on a regular basis, diabetes, and interaction with other medications. Symptoms will include swollen or bleeding gums, loose or sensitive teeth, a receding gum line, and pain when chewing
- Uneven jawbone – According to Arizona Family Dental in Glendale, AZ, “Following tooth loss, the jawbone can become unstable. When missing teeth are not replaced, the remaining teeth have room to move around and will drift into the empty spaces. Ultimately, the bite is affected, causing pain and other health issues including malnutrition.”
- Root decay – Writing in Dear Doctor, Teresa E. Johnson, D.D.S., notes that tooth decay can be caused by a number of things including poor brushing habits and poor diet.
- Pneumonia – Writing for Colgate, Jenny Green, a freelance health care journalist, cites research stating, “there is a clear link between poor oral health and chronic respiratory disease. A study published by the American Academy of Periodontology found that people with respiratory diseases had worse periodontal health than those with healthy lungs.”
- Diabetes – Citing past research by a host of others, the Cleveland Clinic, stated “The link between diabetes and oral health problems is high blood sugar. If blood sugar is poorly controlled, oral health problems are more likely to develop.”
- Heart disease – Though probably not the only cause of heart disease, Robert H. Shmerling, MD, writing in Harvard Health Publishing, looks at the overwhelming results of studies linking poor oral health to cardiovascular problems. “The bacteria that infect the gums and cause gingivitis and periodontitis also travel to blood vessels elsewhere in the body where they cause blood vessel inflammation and damage; tiny blood clots, heart attack, and stroke may follow. Supporting this idea is the finding of remnants of oral bacteria within atherosclerotic blood vessels far from the mouth.
You might be looking at these issues and thinking anyone could be susceptible to them. And you’d be right. Almost anyone can fall prey to these. Why, though, are seniors more prone to poor oral health? I’m not a doctor or dentist, but, outside of age and lifestyle choices, three reasons come to mind. First, seniors with arthritis may find it hard or painful to brush. Dementia may cause one to forget brushing, and third, interactions from medications can cause problems.
It behooves us all, especially seniors, to take care of our teeth. That includes not only daily brushing but also regular checkups. The list above is, again, far from conclusive. I’ve left out dry mouth, darkened teeth, and stomatitis, and, I feel sure, a few other maladies. If nothing else, I hope it makes you more aware of what we all can and should be doing to maintain a level of independence.