BY:  ElderIssues, Inc.

What is dental health?The adage, "you are what you eat" can also be interpreted as "you are what you can eat" and what you can eat is often influenced by the health of your mouth! Healthy teeth and a healthy mouth are essential for both digestion and speech. Many persons have not been takeing proper caring for teeth and gums or taken advantage of the prevention and the technology that is used by the dental profession today. As a consequence there are many elderly dental issues, over 40% of people over 65 years or older have lost all their teeth due to poor dental hygiene. However, it is never too late to begin working toward improved dental health!

Why bother?Good nutrition depends on eating a variety of foods as well as its proper digestion. The ability to eat high bulk and fiber foods is dependent upon having strong teeth and a healthy mouth. The first stage of the whole intricate digestion process begins with enzymes that are released in the mouth. When the mouth contains areas of inflammation and infection, your body's fuel, your food, becomes contaminated before you are able to use it. When you have mouth problems and are only able to eat soft foods, they may be less nutritious. Your body is robbed of the nourishment it needs.

Importance of dental care among the elderlyAs we age, we have an increased need for a healthy mouth but yet there are few older persons who havedental health insurance to help pay for proper care. Health insurance and Medicare do not cover for dental services. It is difficult for many older persons to self-care due to disability or frailty. Dentures are wonderful but they are a far cry from having one's own teeth. Other factors include:
  • Decreased production of saliva
  • Increased mouth dryness from smoking and alcohol
  • Reduced self-esteem and increased social isolation with awareness of poor
  • Several disease conditions that cause mouth sores, ulcers and sensitive gums
  • Weight loss that changes the structure of the mouth
Evidence of poor dental careA person with poor dental health may experience one or several of the following:
  • Cavities (tooth decay, dental caries) are caused by destruction of the tooth from plaque and germs. The germs spread into the root of the tooth and can create infections throughout the body. They also can block salivary gland production, resulting in a decrease in digestive enzymes and a dry mouth.
  • Salivary gland disorders become more significant as we get older because the production of saliva reduces with aging. Over 400 medications interfere with this production causing dry mouth. Dry mouth is often accompanied by difficulty swallowing foods. It also prohibits one from lengthy conversations or public speaking. Radiation therapy to the head or neck and chemotherapy may also impact the salivary glands. Saliva provides protection from bacteria, fungus, and viral growth, and helps to maintain the mineral balance in the teeth.
  • Gum or periodontal disease is the result of an infectious process. It can result in bone loss and sometimes loosening of the teeth. Bleeding, swelling or pain in the gums (gingivitis) may be the first sign of this potentially harmful process.

Other contributing factorsCertain physical conditions may influence poor dental health. These conditions include:
  • Chronic respiratory illnesses
  • Diabetes
  • Immune deficiency diseases
  • Mobility impairments
  • Non-conforming dentures
  • Mobility impairments
  • Poor nutritional status
What you can doEssentially all dental health problems are preventable! You can practice good oral hygiene and ensure a healthy mouth. Do this by:
  • Daily flossing
  • Proper care of dentures
  • Use of anti-plaque mouth wash
  • Proper nutrition including reduced sugar intake
  • Regular dental check ups with professional cleaning
  • Regular tooth brushing
Older persons may have great difficulty with brushing and flossing and may require assistive or specially tailored items. People who are dependent on others for their oral hygiene including those with mental and physical disabilities require special attention. This may mean creating a special handle for the toothbrush by widening or lengthening it. There are special toothpaste dispensers, electric toothbrushes and alternative cleaning devices such as a Water Pic now available.

This article was last updated on: 07/17/2010


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