happy senior couple at winterOral health is important for people of all ages, from how often you brush your teeth to the foods that you eat. Yet certain dental conditions can emerge for older adults and may be worsened by chronic health issues and age-related changes.

To monitor the oral health of an aging loved one or your own, here’s what to keep in mind.

Dental Health Issues for Seniors

People ages 65 and older are more likely to develop:

  • Tooth Decay: As many as 20 percent of older adults have untreated tooth decay. These risks increase due to gum recession that exposes tooth roots and dryness affecting how the mouth manages plaque and bacteria.
  • Gum Disease: About two-thirds of older adults have gum disease, including moderate to severe periodontitis. The development of this condition leads to gum recession, increases tooth decay risks and can cause bacteria to enter the bloodstream.
  • Tooth Loss: About 20 percent of older adults have lost all their teeth and dentures or other dental restorations are needed to prevent issues with chewing and swallowing.
  • Jawbone Loss: Older adults may experience jawbone loss due to infection and missing teeth. The remaining teeth may shift and change one’s facial structure.
  • Dry Mouth: This condition affects up to 40 percent of older adults and correlates with the use of multiple medications, as well as radiation treatments. Dry mouth influences your risk for cavities and also contributes to dry lips or a cracked tongue.
  • Oral Cancer: Oral and pharyngeal cancer risks increase after age 60.
  • Visual Changes: Located behind the enamel, dentin can change color due to a lifetime of eating and possible tobacco exposure. Thinning enamel also makes the dentin more vulnerable to staining with age. As a result, teeth may start to appear more yellow or develop a purple, brown or black color.
  • Decreased Taste: Age, medication side effects and wearing dentures can influence sense of taste.
  • Denture-Induced Stomatitis: Inflammation of the gums and other mouth tissue can stem from poorly fitting dentures or negligent dental hygiene.
  • Thrush: Older adults are more at risk for this fungal infection of the mouth, which can emerge in response to a medication side effect or immune system change.
  • Chronic Conditions: Older adults with arthritis, diabetes, COPD or heart disease are more likely to develop periodontal disease, oral inflammation and lose their teeth.

Risks for Poor Dental Health

Older adults are more at risk for dental health issues if they have:

  • Insufficient or no insurance
  • Low or a limited income
  • Inefficient access to dental care
  • Mobility issues preventing them from seeing the dentist
  • A history of smoking or tobacco use
  • A health condition like diabetes or hypertension
  • Multiple prescription and over-the-counter medications
  • A cognitive impairment like dementia or Alzheimer’s disease
  • Sensory issues

Along with health conditions, insufficient nutrition, missing routine dental visits and being unable to thoroughly brush or floss one’s teeth can increase risk for oral health issues.

Oral Care for Older Adults

Seniors are encouraged to keep up with oral hygiene, including:

  • Brushing twice a day and flossing at least once a day
  • Using products containing fluoride and rinsing with an antibacterial mouthwash
  • Seeing a dentist every six months for a professional cleaning and oral checkup

Yet for many older adults, this is easier said than done. To maintain oral health with age:

  • Stop using tobacco
  • Limit starchy, sugary and sticky foods
  • Discuss with your doctor if dry mouth is a side effect of taking certain medications
  • Keep saliva flowing by chewing sugarless gum and sipping non-caffeinated, non-sugary beverages
  • Use an electric toothbrush and water flosser if you have dexterity or mobility issues
  • Continue your dental routine to avoid infection after a joint replacement or surgery

If your loved one has dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, accompany them to appointments and make sure they follow the dentist’s instructions for at-home care.
To discuss dental concerns with the medical team at Avon Health Center, contact us today.