Aging in Place: Common Dental Concerns Among Seniors

Oral health is an important, but often overlooked, component of a senior’s health and well-being. Since oral infections have the potential to spread to other parts of the body, proper dental hygiene becomes even more important. Unfortunately, as seniors continue aging in place, they face a unique set of dental issues.

Here’s a look at some of the oral complications that are unique to seniors:

Gum (periodontal) Disease
There are two types of gum disease: gingivitis and periodontitis. With gingivitis, the gums become red, swollen, and can bleed easily. In periodontitis, gums pull away from the teeth and form pockets of infection.

No matter which form of gum disease is present, seniors are in danger of losing natural teeth and healthy bone density. While it’s true that gum disease affects people of all ages, experts agree it grows worse with age. During the early stages, gum disease is painless. Without pain or warning signals, most seniors don’t even know they have it. When the disease advances, however, seniors face serious adverse effects.

Gum disease is usually caused by poor brushing and flossing habits. Without proper care, dental plaque builds up on the teeth. When the plaque isn’t removed, it hardens and forms tartar – something that brushing is not able to clean.

Eating Difficulties
Oral damage above or below the gum line can make it nearly impossible for seniors to eat. With problems like missing teeth, cavities and ill-fitting dentures/bridges, eating difficulties can force seniors to modify their chewing habits or adjust the quality, consistency, and balance of their diet.

Dry Mouth
Bouts of dry mouth – called xerostomia – are common among seniors. Saliva plays a crucial role in preventing tooth decay. Without it, the mouth is no longer able to decrease bacteria or prevent cavities.

Many seniors take daily medications to treat or manage illness. Unfortunately, a number of those medications cause dry mouth. Examples include decongestants, antihistamines, blood pressure medications, narcotic pain medications, incontinence medications, antidepressants, diuretics, muscle relaxers, and Parkinson’s disease medications. To prevent dry mouth, seniors should drink an adequate amount of water and regular dental checkups.

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