Mouth is the mirror to our body, which means, our mouth not only reflects our body’s condition but oral health also affects our overall health. Oral condition could be a pointer to many systemic diseases. For example, dryness of the mouth can be a sign of diabetes. Additionally, aging affects oral health and the state of the teeth in several ways. Various evidence-based studies have linked poor oral health to poor overall health. It is a common misconception that an eventual toothless state is unavoidable with ageing. Contrary to this popular belief, if you take good care of your teeth, you may not have to go toothless.
It is vital to maintain good oral health as you age. Without proper care, older people are prone to various oral diseases and conditions, which include:
- Darkened teeth: With ageing, there is normal wear and tear of teeth, causing the enamel to wear off. This exposes the underlying yellowish dentin, which is darker in shade. Thus, teeth look darker. There may also be staining of teeth due to intake of stain-causing food and beverages.
- Tooth decay: Due to wearing off teeth, dentin loses its protective layer of enamel, making the tooth surface more prone to tooth decay as dentin is softer than enamel. When gums recede with age, roots of teeth get exposed leading to root decay.
- Gum disease: With age, there is increasing plaque accumulation, which, if not removed, causes gum diseases. Plaque accumulation occurs due to tobacco products, poor-fitting bridges and dentures, poor diet, and even certain conditions, such as anemia, cancer, and diabetes. Gums are known to recede with age.
- Dry mouth: Dry mouth is a common condition in older adults due to the reduced flow of saliva in the mouth. Dry mouth aggravates other oral problems.
- A diminished sense of taste: With advancing age, the sense of taste may diminish. It may also be affected by medications, the effect of dentures, etc.
- Poor nutrition affects oral health in a lot of ways. Various lesions, ulcers, tongue conditions may be a result of improper nutrition.
- Denture Problems due to ill-fitting dentures like denture sores, candida infection, ulcers, etc., are common.
- Teeth loss: Advanced gum disease causes teeth to become loose and fall off.
- Uneven jawbone: When missing teeth are not replaced, adjacent teeth may move into those regions creating gaps and making the jaw uneven.
- Oral infections like thrush are commonly seen in older people and people with low immunity.
ORAL HYGIENE TIPS FOR THE ELDERLY
They say, “You need to brush only the teeth you want to keep.” This adage rightly represents the gist of this post. If you take good care of your teeth, they will last long. Maintenance of good oral hygiene is the first step to wholesome oral health. Daily brushing and flossing of your teeth are most vital in keeping them in good health. Plaque can build up quickly on the teeth of older adults, and neglecting oral hygiene leads to tooth decay and gum diseases. Hence, to maintain good oral health, it is imperative to follow these tips:
- The importance of religiously following a regular hygiene regime of brushing twice daily cannot be overemphasized. The technique of toothbrushing is also very crucial and may affect your teeth. Incorrect method or forcible toothbrushing may abrade the tooth surfaces and cause gums to recede in the long run. Hence, it is essential to follow the proper technique and use moderate force while brushing.
- Regular flossing after meals and mouth-washing is a must. However, excessive usage of over-the-counter mouthwashes may cause dryness of the mouth, so it must be used under your dentist’s supervision.
- The next step is the maintenance of a good diet. A balanced diet free of refined carbohydrates or sticky cariogenic food is right for your teeth and your overall fitness. The more fibers you take, the cleaner your teeth will be due to their self-cleansing actions. Also, it has been observed that limiting in-between meals snacks is an excellent way to keep plaque at bay. Whatever sweets or carbohydrates are to be taken can be taken during meals. This way, you can prevent plaque build-up.
- Drinking enough water round-the-clock helps you keep your oral cavity hydrated and reduce bad breath.
- Routine dental visits for assessment will help your dentist detect any oral or dental issues in their nascent stages. Regular dental cleanings also play a paramount role in preventing gum problems and keeping periodontal diseases at bay. Early treatment will help you avoid a lot of trouble in the future. For example, if your dentist notices a small cavity in its initial stage of decay, it is wise to get it filled (or restored) rather than letting it fester till it worsens or becomes grossly decayed and has to be extracted. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!! Hence, any preventive measure is always preferable.
- It is also essential to get your missing teeth replaced. If you have lost any tooth/ teeth due to teeth loss due to gum disease or tooth decay, it is crucial to replace the missing teeth. This is because adjacent healthy teeth tend to shift into the gaps created between teeth cause disharmony in the mouth. Other healthy teeth become loose, gums recede, and there is a reduction in the jaw bone. Missing teeth also exert an inadvertent force on other teeth and commonly causes fractures of healthy teeth in seniors. Hence, get your missing teeth replaced with dentures, bridges, or implants.
- You can also increase fluoridation by switching to a fluoride toothpaste or incorporating a fluoride rinse into your daily routine. Fluoride helps reduce the chances of getting dental cavities.
- Avoid tobacco: It is common knowledge that tobacco is linked to an increased risk of mouth and throat cancer and heart diseases, and other serious conditions. Tobacco chewing causes harm to your teeth and gums as well; hence it must be avoided.
- It is also essential to regularly monitor your sugar intake, and blood glucose levels as diabetes is a leading cause of several oral problems.
Maintaining good oral hygiene habits, visiting your dentist regularly, and making lifestyle changes as you age, will help you keep your teeth intact and give you a long-lasting smile.
Disclaimer: Please consult your physician before undertaking any exercise routine, change in diet or consuming vitamins & supplements.