Brushing one’s teeth twice a day is ingrained from an early age. However, oral health needs change over time and while brushing is still important, new issues can arise.
“As we age, it is more important to take good care of our teeth when there are specific concerns and issues that can arise,” explained Gabrielle Mahler, DMD. She provides mobile geriatric dentistry in the Los Angeles area. “For example, many medications can lead to dry mouth which can in turn lead to faster gum recession which makes teeth more susceptible to cavities.”
Dementia and Cavities
Dementia is just one of the chronic illnesses that can affect a person’s ability to keep up their teeth brushing habits. According to the American Dental Association, there are many chronic conditions that typically afflict seniors that can in turn prevent them from being able to keep their teeth and gums healthy:
- severe cognitive impairment, including dementia (decreased ability to engage in self-care)
- hearing loss (may not be able to hear dentist or hygienist explain concerns)
- osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis (ma no longer be able to hold toothbrush)
- loss of mobility (may affect ability to grip toothbrush)
Each one of these changes in a person’s functionality means that a loved one or caregiver needs to be involved in helping to maintain good oral health. When someone’s teeth are not healthy, it can impact their ability to get good nutrition and stay well overall.
Chew On This
The people most likely to experience tooth decay and have the poorest oral health are older Americans who no longer have dental benefits after retirement and cannot afford a trip to the dentist. Medicaid funds dental care for low-income and disabled elderly people in some states, but this is not always available and was not created for routine dental care.
Beyond checking for cavities and receding gums, dentists perform oral cancer checks during checkups during a cleaning. The American Cancer Society calculates about 48,330 people in 2016 will get oral cavity or oropharyngeal cancer and an estimated 9,570 will die of these cancers.
October is National Dental Hygiene Month, and as with many dedicated health awareness months, weeks or days, a time to begin talking with loved ones or health care providers about concerns.