There may be truth behind the old adage, “With age comes wisdom,” but for many adults, getting older means unfamiliar oral health concerns are now a reality. The population facing these concerns is getting bigger and by 2060, the U.S.Census Bureau predicts the number of adults 65 and older will reach 98 million. That’s 24% of the US population! As this group grows, more individuals are seeking information about oral health in older adults. Below is a list of common issues along with solutions for an aging mouth.
WebMD lists the most common oral health problems for older adults:
Top four tips for older adults facing oral health problems:
Tip #1: Drink Water to Prevent Cavities
Older adults may experience higher rates of cavities and tooth loss compared to younger adults. Sometimes “dry mouth” is the culprit. Your mouth relies on saliva to help wash away harmful bacteria.Without enough saliva, plaque can form and may lead to cavities and gum disease. There’s a myth among older populations: “Dry mouth comes naturally with age.” This is false!
Dry mouth can be caused by some prescribed drugs, disease, chemotherapy, or radiation therapy.Your dentist and doctor are great resources and will work with you to determine the cause of dry mouth. Once you find the reason, special toothpastes, rinses, and sprays can be used to lessen the problem. When you drink enough water, you produce more saliva. This helps prevent dry mouth and washes away bacteria.
Tip#2: Brush and Floss Daily to Prevent Gum Disease
When plaque is remains on your teeth for more than 24 hours, it builds up and moves under the gumline where a toothbrush can’t reach. As the layer of plaque builds from a lack of adequate brushing and flossing, the gums become inflamed and irritated. This is called gingivitis. The irritated gum tissue begins to pull away from the tooth, and the worse it gets, the less secure your teeth become. This advanced gum disease is called periodontitis. It can lead to bone, tissue, and tooth loss. As periodontitis progresses, teeth may start to feel loose. About two out of three older adults over 65 have gum disease making it a common problem. What’s worse though, is ongoing studies show people with gum disease are more likely to have a heart attack, stroke, or another serious health event. Talk to your dentist right away if you notice any symptoms of gum disease.
Tip #3: Quit Tobacco, Limit Alcohol to Prevent Oral Cancer
The elimination of tobacco use in all its forms is critical to prevent a variety of oral health complications. Bad breath, tooth discoloration, dry mouth, and cancer are all side effects of smoking or consuming tobacco. Smoking and chewing tobacco are linked with cancers of the cheek, gums, and inner surface of the lips. Pipe smoking also increases your chance of being diagnosed with cancer where the lips touch the pipe stem. Although cases in young adults are on the rise, the average age that oral cancer is diagnosed is 62.
Tobacco and excessive alcohol use are the strongest risk factors.About 7 in 10 patients with oral cancer are heavy drinkers.
The American Cancer Society predicts about 53,000 people will get oral or oropharyngeal cancer in 2019. Of those, about 10,860 people won’t survive the diagnosis.
If you need help quitting, local resources are available to support you right now.
Look for these oral cancer symptoms, too. If you’re experiencing any of these issues or believe you have symptoms of oral cancer, talk to your dentist or doctor right away.
Tips#4: Oral Health Tools to Prevent Pain
When a mouth doesn’t receive the proper care, it can be painful to brush and floss. Ensure all smiles, including aging teeth and gums, are flossed and brushed twice a day to prevent the consequences of plaque buildup – gum disease.
Some older adults experience discomfort in their hands or shoulders during their oral care routine due to arthritis or other painful dexterity issues. Using an electric toothbrush instead of a manual one allows for an easier grip for proper control. It also puts less stress on hand muscles and eases existing arthritic pain conditions. Flossing too, can be made a much easier and less painful task with a water flosser or floss pick. Talk to your dentist to learn which products might work best for you and your lifestyle!
The right dental benefits plan is key to maintaining oral health in older adults. Contact Delta Dental of Idaho to learn more about the specifics of your coverage.
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