According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "older Americans with the poorest oral health tend to be those who are economically disadvantaged, lack insurance, and are members of racial and ethnic minorities. Being disabled, homebound, or institutionalized (e.g., seniors who live in nursing homes) also increases the risk of poor oral health."
The following are typical oral health concerns in older adults:
Untreated tooth decay. Approximately 96% of adults aged 65 years or older have had a cavity; 1 in 5 have untreated tooth decay.
Gum disease. About 2 in 3 (68%) adults aged 65 years or older have gum disease.
Tooth loss. Nearly 1 in 5 adults aged 65 or older have lost all of their teeth. Complete tooth loss is twice as prevalent among adults aged 75 and older (26%) compared with adults aged 65-74 (13%).3 Having missing teeth or wearing dentures can affect nutrition because people without teeth or with dentures often prefer soft, easily chewed foods instead of foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables.
Oral cancer. Cancers of the mouth (oral and pharyngeal cancers) are primarily diagnosed in older adults; the median age at diagnosis is 62 years.
Chronic disease. People with chronic diseases such as arthritis, diabetes, heart disease, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) may be more likely to develop gum (periodontal) disease, but they are less likely to get dental care than adults without these chronic conditions. Also, most older Americans take both prescription and over-the-counter drugs; many of these medications can cause dry mouth. Reduced saliva flow increases the risk of cavities.
This week we are exploring a common oral health concern in seniors: Gum Disease.
Approximately 70% of Canadians will develop gum disease during their lifetime and is more prevalent in older Canadians, but this does not mean it is unavoidable! There are a number of things we can do to prevent and treat gum disease.
What is Gum Disease?
Gum disease is an infection of the tissues that hold your teeth in place. Plaque can start to grow beneath the gum line as it builds up at the base of the tooth. Untreated gum disease can damage the gums and even lead to tooth loss if left untreated.
There are two main types of gum disease. The first — gingivitis — is milder. It's possible to have gingivitis without noticing any symptoms. That's why it's so important to see your dentist regularly. Though you may not see the signs of gum disease, the professional providers in our network will. Untreated gingivitis can lead to periodontitis, a more severe form of gum disease.
Poor oral hygiene causes plaque buildup, which causes gum disease. Regular flossing and brushing are the best ways to prevent gum disease. This will remove plaque from your teeth. Getting your teeth cleaned by your dentist twice a year is also a good idea. Your dentist will remove plaque and tartar, a hardened form of plaque. Tartar cannot be removed by at-home brushing and flossing.
There are several factors that may increase your risk of developing gum disease. Here are a few:
Hormonal changes in women.
Medications that reduce saliva production.
The development of gum disease takes time, so it tends to be more common in older people. As you get older, this is something you should be particularly mindful of.
Symptoms of Gum Disease
Undiagnosed gum disease affects about 20% of people. As gum disease progresses, treating it gets tougher. Getting gum disease diagnosed early gives you a better chance of resolving it.
There are some signs you can look out for to tell if you've got gum disease. Common signs of gum disease include:
Swollen or red gums.
Bleeding gums, particularly when you brush.
A receding gum line.
Pain when chewing.
If you're experiencing any of these problems, see a dentist right away.
Dangers of Gum Disease and Seniors
Untreated gum disease can lead to bone loss around the teeth. This is why gum disease is the leading cause of tooth loss. Seniors who have lost some or all of their teeth may face increased struggles. While there are many options to replace lost teeth, such as implants and dentures, these can be expensive and painful. The most effective way to preserve your ability to eat, talk, and smile comfortably is to take proper care of your teeth.
There are also lots of health problems associated with gum disease. The bacteria in your mouth can travel to other parts of your body and cause heart disease or stroke if you have a weak immune system. In some cases, an infection of the tooth can lead to an infection of the heart’s lining. Diabetes can also be worsened by gum disease.
Since gum disease develops slowly, you must be mindful of your overall habits that may be creating an environment for the inset of gingivitis or periodontitis. Some of these habits include smoking, forgetting to floss or brush daily, improper brushing or flossing techniques, not consuming enough Vitamin C, and grinding your teeth.
Changing and improving your habits is key to prevention!
However, below are 3 additional ways that you can help reduce your chances of getting gum disease:
Check with your dentist for good brushing techniques. To keep your mouth healthy, you need to brush correctly and consistently. One way to reduce your chances of gum disease is to brush at a 45-degree angle to your gums and brush in short, circular movements.
Make sure you go to the dentist twice a year for regular checkups and cleanings. Your dentist might need to clean your teeth every three to four months if you already have gingivitis. Cleanings and checkups allow your dentist and hygienist to get rid of plaque and tartar from your teeth, which reduces your gum disease risk.
Floss regularly to keep the spaces between your teeth clean. Plaque can easily get stuck between your teeth, causing gum disease and other oral health problems. Your dentist can recommend alternatives if you have trouble using floss.
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