Regardless of age, oral health substantially impacts one’s overall health and quality of life. However, especially for seniors, aging puts them at a higher risk for dental problems.
Today, 12 Oaks Community has listed seven common dental problems in senior citizens and advice on how to promote proper oral hygiene.
Common Dental Problems Seniors Should Know
The white tone of teeth depends on the calcium content of the enamel. Typically, teeth’ color changes from white, whitish-yellow to whitish-gray.
The outer coat of enamel wears away with age, revealing the yellow dentin of the teeth. As they age, the dentin also increases, reducing the pulp size. As a result, the teeth become less translucent, giving off a darker appearance.
Over time, spots on the teeth that first seem brown or gray may turn black. Black tartar is usually inside the lower front teeth or the outside of the molars. In areas where the tooth enamel has eroded, black teeth may start to form holes.
According to the National Center for Health Statistics, 27% of adults aged 20 to 64 had untreated tooth decay, and 91% had dental caries.
For seniors 65 and older, the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research
provided the following specific information:
- 93% of seniors have had dental caries in their permanent teeth.
- 18% of seniors have untreated decay.
- On average, seniors have 9.24 decayed or missing permanent teeth and 43.02 decayed or missing permanent surfaces.
Tooth decay can cause cavities, leading to pain, infection, and tooth loss. This condition is often a result of a build-up of plaque and tartar.
Another big concern for seniors is root decay, which results from exposure to decay-causing acids. The gum tissue pulls away from the tooth, exposing the dental roots. Due to a lack of enamel, roots are more vulnerable to decay.
Gum disease, also known as periodontitis, is a threatening gum infection that harms soft tissue and leads to tooth loss. If left untreated, it can demolish the bone that supports your teeth.
Here are several signs and symptoms of gum disease that your elderly family members should notice:
- Easy bleeding gums
- Swollen gums
- Dusky red or purplish gums
- Sore gums
- Bad breath
- Teeth loss
Gum recession is a condition where more of your tooth’s surface is exposed when the gum tissue wears away or pulls back. When gums recede, more space forms between the teeth and gum line, which makes it easier for disease-causing germs to accumulate.
Tooth sensitivity is frequently the initial symptom of gum recession. And if the damage to the supporting tissue and bone structures remains unrepaired, tooth loss may eventually occur.
Dry mouth results from a decrease in saliva flow. As seniors age, they are more likely to experience dry mouth. Some factors that can contribute to this condition include:
- Medications. Dry mouth is a common adverse effect of medical treatments, including some over-the-counter medicines. Several prescriptions used to treat depression, high blood pressure, anxiety, and more can cause dry mouth.
- Certain disorders. Dry mouth can also be a symptom of diabetes, a stroke, yeast infection, Alzheimer’s disease, or other health problems. Additionally, mouth breathing and snoring probably cause dry mouth.
- Radiation therapies for cancer. Chemotherapy drugs can change the produced quantity of saliva. Particularly, radiation treatments to the head and neck can damage salivary glands, causing a marked decrease in saliva production. Depending on the radiation dose and treated regions, this could be either temporary or permanent.
- Smoking and drinking. Over consumption of alcohol can lead to dehydration, causing your mouth to dry. This effect can get worse if smoking is involved. The nicotine in cigarettes slows saliva production, exacerbating the condition.
Diminished Sense of Taste
Aging comes with some natural loss of taste, especially after 60. One of the variables that may contribute to this problem is dental issues.
Loss of taste can significantly impact the quality of life. It frequently results in poor nutrition, appetite loss, and even depression. In addition, a diminished sense of taste may tempt senior citizens to add more salt or sugar to their food to improve the flavor. If they have diabetes or high blood pressure, this could be a severe problem.
Oral cancer occurs when a tumor appears on the tongue’s surface, the inside of the cheeks, the palate, the lips, or the gums. The risk of developing mouth cancer increases with aging. Furthermore, people are more susceptible to this health problem if they regularly smoke or use alcohol.
Symptoms of mouth cancer include:
- Painful mouth ulcers
- Unexplained and persistent lumps
- Loose teeth or sockets
- Numb feeling on the lip or tongue
Oral Hygiene Tips for Senior Citizens
Brush and Floss Daily
The most straightforward technique to maintain healthy teeth and gums is daily oral hygiene. Remind your seniors to brush their teeth twice daily with fluoridated toothpaste to prevent tooth decay. Regular tongue cleansing and using floss also provide further protection.
Take Care of Dentures Properly
If your loved one wears dentures, oral hygiene is even more critical to ensure that dentures last and stay clean. Here are some tips for proper maintenance:
- Clean dentures twice a day.
- Remove and clean dentures after eating.
- Use denture toothpaste and a soft toothbrush to clean dentures. Avoid using ordinary toothpaste since it could scratch dentures.
- Soak dentures overnight to keep them moist.
- Before putting dentures back in the mouth, rinse them properly, especially if you used a denture-soaking solution.
- Plan frequent dental checkups.
Pay Attention to the Diet
A diet high in sugary foods or between-meal snacks can contribute to the accumulation of sugar and acid in the mouth. Encouraging seniors to read nutrition and ingredient labels will help them limit their sugar consumption.
Additionally, politely remind them to limit the number of snacks they consume. If they do, choose a wholesome snack like fruit or veggies.
Visit the Dentist Regularly
A regular visit to the dentist is the best method to help prevent early oral cancer. Also, frequent checkups can keep teeth healthy and help prevent other dental issues. Therefore, remember to take your parents to the dentist for a cleaning and checkup at least once a year.
If you have questions about oral hygiene for seniors or any conditions discussed here, connect with us and learn more.
At 12 Oaks, our team of caring professionals is dedicated to keeping residents safe, engaged, and connected to their families and friends while leading fulfilling lives. 12 Oaks communities are an ideal place to enjoy the encore season of life.
For questions or to book a scheduled personalized tour, don’t hesitate to contact us.
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