It used to be that with age came tooth loss — and, in many cases, dentures. But thanks to better preventive measures, more seniors are keeping their natural teeth longer and reaping the benefits. Having a healthy, functional and attractive smile is important at every stage of life. If you have your own teeth, or most of them, into your senior years, you look and feel better.
Oral and overall health – the connection:
Continuing to take good care of our mouths is as important as taking care of the rest of our bodies. Our quality of life is affected by what we eat, and the ability to chew comfortably aids in digestion and proper nutrition. As well, growing evidence shows a possible link between gum disease and a variety of serious health conditions, including heart disease, stroke and respiratory disorders — all of which are more prevalent in later life. Keeping your mouth healthy as you age requires diligent do-it-yourself care. That means flossing, brushing and rinsing. Care for all patients, including seniors, is now very much individualized based on risk assessment. If a senior has a dental implant, for example, that will require additional oral hygiene techniques. Work with Dr. Jaleel and the rest of the dental team to come up with the best techniques for your mouth.
You’re never too old to visit your dentist:
Regular cleanings and oral exams are cornerstones of good dental health. Besides checking out the condition of your teeth (or implants or dentures) and existing dental work such as fillings, root canals and crowns, your dentist will also examine your gums for signs of disease. The condition of your mouth can reflect the condition of your overall health. Bleeding gums, for example, might indicate the beginning of gum disease, which could also be related to diabetes, if your gums have been otherwise healthy. The major disease, which should be screened for in every patient, regardless of age, is oral cancer.
Good communication is key:
Make sure you review and update your medical history at every visit. Tell Dr. Jaleel about any prescription and over-the-counter drugs you’re taking, any surgeries you’ve had (especially those involving the heart or joints — artificial knee or hip replacements, for example) and any existing health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease or cancer that can affect your oral health. You want to make sure that any possible negative interactions are avoided and appropriate precautions are taken before beginning routine dental procedures. If you’ve had a hip or knee replacement or have a heart murmur, for example, you may need antibiotics before any dental work in order to reduce the risk of infection.
Tips for Caregivers
Caregivers should ensure that a senior’s daily oral hygiene is kept up. Three dental experts offer these helpful tips:
- If seniors have good habits, don’t mess with their routine. If they need help, be gentle since their tissue is fragile.
- Seniors with arthritis or other dexterity problems may have trouble holding a toothbrush or using floss. The use of newer oral aids, such as electric toothbrushes with special heads and other oral devices, can make a big difference in oral hygiene.
- Seniors are often on one or more medications, which may cause dry mouth or xerostomia. Often loved ones will bring them beverages and candies to help moisten the mouth. Candies sweetened with xylitol are a good option since they help stimulate saliva without the plaque producing effects of sugar.
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