Caring for Senior Smiles: Understanding Dental Concerns in Older Adults

Caring for Senior Smiles: Understanding Dental Concerns in Older Adults

March 15, 2024 | Health

Caring for Senior Smiles: Understanding Dental Concerns in Older Adults

As we age, our bodies experience many changes, one of them being shifts in oral health. Older adults sometimes run into dental issues that can significantly affect their overall health when not taken care of. Even though the dentist may not be your favorite place to visit, it’s essential to be aware of potential problems and prioritize oral care.

1. Decay and Cavities

Despite the belief that cavities are solely a worry for kids who eat too much candy, older adults can also be prone to tooth decay. 1 in 5 older adults is likely to develop a cavity. Over time, our gums can shrink and recede, uncovering the roots of our teeth and exposing them to decay. Changes in how much saliva we produce, and its makeup can increase the likelihood of cavities too.

 Preventative Advice: Older adults must maintain good oral hygiene habits, such as brushing twice a day with fluoride toothpaste and flossing regularly, to prevent cavities. Regular dental check-ups are also essential to spot any signs of early decay and address them promptly.

2. Gum Disease

Gum disease, or periodontal disease, is another issue often seen in older adults. It’s caused by bacteria in plaque, which can trigger inflammation and gum infections. If not addressed, gum disease can worsen and lead to tooth loss.  

Preventative Advice: Brushing, flossing, and using an antiseptic mouthwash can help disinfect your gums, keep your teeth sparkly and clean, and avoid disease. Taking a holistic approach to combating gum disease is also beneficial to staying healthy. Pay attention to dietary choices, stay hydrated, and avoid products harmful to your teeth.

3. Dry Mouth

When our salivary glands slow down or stop producing saliva like they used to, a dry mouth can often result. Things such as medications, specific medical conditions, and the natural aging process, can contribute to this condition. Dry mouth not only causes discomfort but also heightens the risk of developing cavities and gum disease. If your loved one is noticing a frequent sore throat or experiencing trouble chewing, speaking, or swallowing, it may be time to reach out to an oral healthcare professional.

 Preventative Advice: To alleviate dry mouth symptoms, older adults can benefit from staying hydrated and drinking plenty of water throughout the day. Avoiding caffeine and acidic foods and beverages can also help reduce dry mouth discomfort. In some cases, dentists may suggest and prescribe medications to stimulate saliva production.

4. Tooth Loss

Losing teeth is a common worry for older adults, caused by factors like decay, gum disease, or injury. Beyond impacting chewing and speech, missing teeth can change facial structure and diminish overall oral health.

Preventative Advice: Sticking to a healthy diet is a simple way to help out your teeth. Just like the rest of your body, what you eat impacts your teeth and gums. Try maintaining a well-balanced diet of lean meat, whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and low-fat dairy products. Though tempting, limit your intake of sweets and sugary beverages.

5. Oral Cancer

Older adults can be more susceptible to oral cancer, especially if they are former smokers or have a history of significant sun exposure. It is one of the most common types of head and neck cancer that affects the lips, parts of the tongue, and the roof and floor of the mouth. When left untreated, oral cancer can be life-threatening.

Preventative Advice: It’s never too late to kick negative habits and instill healthy ones. Be cautious of the time spent in the sun, and always protect yourself with SPF. Keep up with regular appointments for oral screenings and dental appointments. Any ongoing discomfort you or a loved one notices in them should be addressed and treated right away.

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