Maintaining oral care for the elderly population

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Oral care is important especially for the elderly people. The elderly are more susceptible to dental problems such as gum disease, tooth decay, and oral infections. Poor oral health can affect quality of life and also lead to other health issues like heart disease and diabetes.

 

Statistics of oral health in the elderly population

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 1 in 5 adults over the age of 65 have untreated tooth decay. While nearly 1 in 4 adults over the age of 65 have lost all of their teeth, with complete tooth loss being more common among women. CDC also reports that older adults with diabetes are more likely to have gum disease than those without diabetes. 

 

According to the US Surgeon General’s Report, approximately 23% of adults aged 65 to 74 have severe periodontal disease, and generally, older adults are more likely to have oral cancer.

 

Common oral health problems

As you age, the risk for certain oral health problems increases significantly. Oral health problems not just the diseases of your teeth, but also include gum, lips, tongue, and so on.

  • Plaque
    Plaque accumulates around the teeth as you age. Heavy accumulation can become more difficult for seniors to maintain a good standard of oral hygiene.
  • Tooth decay
    Tooth decay can occur at any age, but older adults are more susceptible due to factors like poor oral hygiene, dry mouth, medications, and poor nutrition.
  • Tooth loss
    Tooth loss can be caused by gum disease, tooth decay, and other oral health problems. Missing teeth can affect chewing ability, speech, and even self-esteem.
  • Weakened or cracked filling
    Bacteria accumulate around the edges of loose fillings causing tooth decay. Many people over 50 have decay on both their teeth and root surfaces.
  • Root decay
    Root decay is a common problem in older adults with receding gums. This occurs when the root of a tooth is exposed, making it loose and more susceptible to decay.
  • Gum disease
    Gum diseases such as gingivitis, gum recession are common problems in older adults, these problems can lead to serious health issues if left untreated. Symptoms include swollen or bleeding gums, bad breath, and loose teeth.
  • Dry mouth (xerostomia)
    Many older adults experience dry mouth due to medications, which can increase the risk of tooth decay and other oral health issues.
  • Oral cancer
    Oral cancer is more common in older adults, it is often correlated with factors such as tobacco and alcohol use.
  • Denture-related problems
    Older adults who wear dentures may experience problems such as gum irritation, difficulty speaking or eating, and gum infections.

Often, many of these oral health problems happen because of unhealthy lifestyle and habits. For example, poor oral hygiene, smoking and heavy drinking. Sometimes, the oral problems in elderly people also due to poor nutrition and medications, leading to dry mouth, gum diseases, reduced saliva production, etc.

 

Implications and complications

Oral problems in the elderly can have significant implications for their overall health and quality of life.

  1. Pain and discomfort
    Oral problems such as tooth decay, gum disease, and oral infections can cause pain, discomfort, and difficulty eating and speaking.
  2. Malnutrition
    Difficulty eating due to oral problems can lead to malnutrition and weight loss in the elderly.
  3. Social isolation
    Oral problems can affect a person’s self-esteem and social interactions, leading to social isolation and depression.
  4. Systemic health issues
    Poor oral health has been linked to several systemic health issues, including heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and respiratory infections.
  5. Increased healthcare costs
    Treating oral problems in the elderly can be costly and time-consuming, leading to increased healthcare costs.
  6. Reduced quality of life
    Oral problems can negatively impact a person’s overall quality of life, leading to reduced enjoyment of daily activities and decreased overall well-being.

Treatment options for oral care

The treatment options for oral health problems in the elderly often depend on the specific problem and its severity.

 

  • For common dental health issues such as plaque and tooth decay, usually scaling, root planing, dental fillings, and antibiotics treatment can solve most of the problems.
  • For more severe conditions, such as root decay and gum diseases, dentist or orthodontist may need to perform root canal therapy, insert dental crowns, or oral surgery.
  • In cases where elderly people are losing their teeth, dentures may be a last resort to restore the appearance and function of their mouth.
  • For people suffering oral cancer, the treatments may include surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy.
Elderly wearing denture

How you should care for your oral health?

Basic maintenance:

  1. Brushing twice a day is important for removing plaque and preventing tooth decay. Use a soft-bristled toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste.
  2. Flossing once a day is essential for removing plaque and food particles from between teeth.
  3. Rinse with mouthwash can help kill germs and freshen breath.

Lifestyle and habits:

  1. Eating a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains can help promote good oral health.
  2. Tobacco and excessive alcohol use can increase the risk of oral cancer and other dental problems.
  3. If you wear dentures, make sure to clean them daily and have them checked by a dentist regularly.
  4. Drink plenty of water can help keep the mouth moist and prevent dry mouth, which can increase the risk of tooth decay and other oral health problems.

Conclusion

Maintaining a healthy oral health is essential to ensure you can continue to enjoy good quality of life,  balanced diet, and high self-confident. Hence, it is important to visit the dentist for yearly checkups to detect and treat dental problems as early as possible.

 

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