This is a guest post by Shelly White.
As we age, it’s not unusual to find ourselves facing many new medical problems. Alzheimer’s, heart disease, diabetes, and mobility issues can cause so many changes in your life that going to the dentist seems like an afterthought. But for seniors, oral health can be more important than ever, especially because the health of your mouth can be a number one indicator of the health of the rest of your body.
The biggest reason for seniors to avoid the dentist is the same as everyone else – the cost. But a regular doctor might never detect the warning signs that your teeth and gums can give you when it comes to serious diseases.
1. Tooth Decay
It makes sense that our teeth lose enamel as we get older, and that seniors can be more at risk for cavities than ever before. Years of poor diet or poor dental care can cause bacteria to build up. This bacteria creates plaque, which dissolves your teeth. Fluoride in the water supply has done a lot to prevent tooth decay in modern times, but many seniors may have grown up without it, which makes the use of fluoride toothpastes and mouthwashes even more important.
2. Gum Disease
Another major cause of tooth decay is exposure of the roots of teeth due to receding gums. Gums that are infected by plaque will swell and bleed. Gum disease is a leading indicator of heart problems and diabetes, and it’s likely that if your gums are in bad condition, you could be at risk for a more serious problem. It’s important to have a dentist treat your gums before you lose bone mass or the shape of your jaw changes, both of which can result in tooth loss.
3. Dry Mouth
A condition present in about 20 percent of elderly patients, dry mouth means that you have lost the ability to create enough saliva. Saliva plays a large part in flushing the mouth of food particles and preventing plaque build-up and tooth decay. One of the reasons dry mouth is more common in seniors is because they typically take more medications – quite a few prescription drugs, including those used to treat high blood pressure and incontinence, can have dry mouth listed as a side effect.
4. Denture Issues
Nearly 25 percent of people age 65 and over have lost their teeth. If you wear dentures, it’s important to make sure they are fitting you correctly. Ill-fitting dentures can cause calluses on the gums and a lot of pain. You should also remember to take care of your dentures properly because they can gather plaque too, and you should have your mouth examined by a dentist to detect oral cancer and gum disease, and to make sure the teeth still fit. Your jaw can change over the years, so changes in the fit of your dentures are usually inevitable.
It’s important to maintain care of your teeth, even if you can’t get around as well anymore. Brushing and flossing regularly can increase your chances to keep your teeth from falling out. Either way, the American Academy of Periodontology suggests that seniors visit a dentist every six months. Our mouth can reveal our dietary habits and the condition of our hearts, and having a mouth that’s free of pain and infection is really important. A healthy smile can mean a healthy life, well into your golden years.
Author Bio: Shelly White writes for insurance blogs. If you’re retired, you may be interested in learning, does social security cover dental care?