Many seniors find that as they age, they are faced with a number of new and developing health issues. From urinary tract infections to diabetes, the issues that tend to plague the senior community often seem never ending. However, in addition to keeping serious health issues like this at bay, seniors also need to be careful about their dental health as well. There are a number of very serious dental health issues that can impact seniors specifically. Understanding these dental health issues, what their causes are and how to prevent and treat them will help any senior keep the good oral health they deserve.
While cavities can impact virtually any adult at any time, they are actually extremely common among seniors. This is because many medications today can actually cause or increase the chances of cavities. This is particularly true in the following types of medications:
- Blood pressure medications
- Allergy medication
- Cholesterol medication
- Pain medication
- Anxiety medication
These medications can increase a senior's chances of cavities for a number of reasons, but one of the many is that they also cause dry mouth.
Cavities can be difficult to prevent in seniors who need to take these medications on a daily basis, but there are additional steps they can take in order to lower their chances of getting cavities. This includes getting fluoride gel or varnish treatments to protect the teeth from cavities and adding additional brushing and flossing sessions during the day.
It may not seem like dry mouth would be a very serious problem, but it can be very painful and cause other oral health issues if not treated. Dry mouth is extremely common in seniors and can come from a variety of sources, including certain medications. Seniors with Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's are also more likely to get dry mouth.
The good news about dry mouth is that there are a number of things that seniors can do in order to remedy this issue. These include:
- The use of over the counter oral sprays, mouthwashes and moisturizers
- Drinking more water
- Using throat lozenges to stimulate saliva
- Having a humidifier in the home to keep moisture in the air
- Avoiding alcohol and soft drinks that can irritate dry mouth
All of these things can help the mouth stay lubricated and help keep seniors away from issues with dry mouth.
Stomatitis From Dentures
When dentures are ill-fitting or when they are not cleaned properly they can cause a number of issues. One of the most common of these issues is a problem called stomatitis. This occurs when a fungus known as Candida forms in the mouth and causes inflammation in the tissues under the denture. When there is an overgrowth of this fungus it can also cause a condition known as Thrush. While poor denture care is the most common cause of this issue in seniors it can also occur in seniors with diabetes or those who are taking drugs that impact their immune system.
Unfortunately, oral cancer is one of the most common cancers to impact the senior community. In fact, the average age of individuals who are diagnosed with oral cancer is 62 years old. The best way to prevent mouth cancer from forming is to visit the dentist regularly. If you notice sores, red marks, white patches or changes in the color of the mouth or lips in a senior, then they may be developing issues with oral cancer and will need to visit a dentist immediately for an examination.
Gum disease has become increasingly common in the senior community. Gum disease, also known as periodontal disease is caused by the bacteria that lives in dental plaque. This bacteria can irritate the gums. The most common sign of periodontal disease is red or swollen gums or gums that bleed on their own or when brushed.
Gum disease is rather mild in its early stages. However, if it advances it can cause serious problems in bones and ligaments under the gums, and can cause both gum and tooth loss. The most serious complication is an infection that can spread to the blood and heart. The best way to prevent gum disease is to brush the gums, remove plaque daily with brushing and flossing, and to visit the dentist on a regular basis.
Many seniors start to show signs of teeth discoloration as they age. While this can look like a very serious issue in the teeth, it is mostly a cosmetic problem. When teeth start to darken and turn brown or yellow in seniors, it is typically because the dentin in the teeth is changing and the outer layer of enamel that covers the teeth is wearing thin. Typically, this has to do with seniors putting their teeth through years of eating and drinking certain foods that destroy enamel. Once enamel is gone it cannot be replaced.
Root decay is a common problem in older adults that occurs when the root below the tooth becomes exposed. This is cause by plaque and food left in the teeth and is also common in seniors who use tobacco, have certain diseases, maintain a poor diet and who have dentures. It may also be a side effect of diabetes and certain cancers.
With so many different oral health issues impacting the senior community, it is more important than ever that caregivers and love ones step in and help their seniors take care of their oral health. This means brushing with manual or power brushes, flossing and using mouth rinse twice a day, and visiting the dentist regularly. Even seniors who have dentures need to be visiting the dentist regularly, cleaning their dentures and cleaning their mouths with a rise or mouth wash. Oral health is about more than just teeth.
Good oral health means good overall health, so seniors and their caregivers need to stay on top of the many dental issues that impact the senior community, and know when it is time to visit a dentist for further advice and information on these issues.