We don’t have to tell you the importance of oral health on overall health because, chances are, you’re already doing what you need to do to stay healthy. When it comes to your teeth, you brush, floss, schedule routine dental visits, and do your best to eat well.
And even though you might not have slowed down enough to notice, dentally speaking, the elders in your life were there before you. In fact, they did oral health care so well, most of them still have natural teeth.
That wasn’t always the case. Just 50 years ago, half of all seniors had no natural teeth. Today, 75% of seniors have almost all of them.
And while keeping natural teeth is good news, as a recent article in Long-Term Living recently pointed out, natural teeth can create issues in an aging population. To understand why, we need only look at some statistics:
- 47% of adults over 30 years have some form of gum disease (periodontitis).
- 30% of seniors have dry mouth.
- About 23% of adults have arthritis, and this number is expected to rise.
- 1 in 9 seniors has Alzheimer’s disease, and this number is expected to rise.
- About half of adults have at least one chronic disease, such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes.
Seniors living with any of these chronic health issues may quickly find themselves overwhelmed. Routine dental care may no longer seem like a priority or they may have difficulty with home care.
Unfortunately, this can create an avalanche of ever worsening health issues.
Dry mouth, for example, is caused by many medications, and raises the risk of tooth decay or gum disease. Saliva is what naturally provides minerals that allow teeth to remineralize.
Mobility issues from arthritis may limit flossing or result in improper technique. This lapse may trigger or worsen gum disease, leading to chronic inflammation, bone loss, decay, and infection, and tooth loss.
Notably, inflammation in the mouth is not only related to chronic diseases. It can, in some cases, also affect chronic disease. For instance, research shows gum disease is related higher blood sugar levels in diabetics, while reversing it may lower them.
Other factors that may get in the way of seniors’ oral health are cost and access to dental care. Many seniors live below the poverty level after retirement. They simply can’t afford routine care. Others may not be able to get to and from appointments.
Sadly, for many, family members have little awareness of their struggle.
So how can you help an older family member maintain oral health and keep their teeth from having a detrimental effect on their overall health?
By staying attentive to any difficulties, or changes, in their daily routines and keeping the lines of communication open. Ask them what you can do to help. Do they need help looking for dental insurance plans? Organizing their bathroom for easier access to dental supplies? Getting to and from appointments? Filling out forms?
Involve yourself, as appropriate, in their health maintenance. Your presence can ensure a loved one ages not only with vitality, but with dignity.
Image by AJ LEON