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Baby boomers do not have to be at higher risk for tooth loss

Tracy Woolrich's picture
Senior dental care

There are many reasons why you may not have good dental heath. Sometimes it is just a matter of not being able to care for your teeth. Perhaps you cannot access proper oral care such as semiannual teeth cleaning at a dentist. If caring for aging family members, the reasons sometimes include impaired cognition and poor socio-economic conditions. As a society we owe it to this generation to assist in keeping everyone’s gums and teeth healthy for as long as possible. So much depends upon it.

Dentists can be very frustrating. You can wait a month for an appointment, and when he examines you he says, 'I wish you'd come to me sooner.' All kidding aside it is important to maintain good oral hygiene. This is true at any age too. Statistics show that 25% of those over 65 will have already lost all of their teeth. That is because periodontal disease and tooth decay are the leading causes of tooth loss in older adults. In addition the majority of older adults have receding gum tissue. It does not have to be that way. Advancements in dentistry make it very likely that older adults can keep their own teeth longer with continued ongoing oral healthcare.

Advances in dental care have resulted in a reduction in edentulous (toothless) individuals. Accessing ongoing dental care appears to increase the number of adults who retain their teeth until much later in life. That is excellent news. However at the same time, the self neglected care in general in this population has lead to reduced oral health care utilization. The consequences can impact the general health. This is true for you and family members that are in declining health.

Despite increasing attention being given to improving oral health care for seniors, there is compelling evidence showing that the oral health of elderly people, in particular a nursing home resident is still poor. Many are just not able to clean their mouths properly and must rely on help from caregivers. Nursing staff need to grasp the importance of proper mouth care.

This is not a new problem, according to Dr. Anthony Iacopino a spokesperson for the American Dental Association. It is crucial that adult caregivers know that elderly individuals should be brushing and flossing and if unable to do so on their own to assist them. He said the American Dental Association and state organizations are working on programs to make sure dentists are available in nursing homes.

The researchers in a European Geriatric Medicine article said, oral health "deserves significant attention of national and international politicians, policymakers, scientists and health care providers." This is a very important statement because good teeth are not just a cosmetic issue. It can become a health issue as well.

Risk factors

  • Dry mouth syndrome (Xerostomia)
  • Diabetes
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Post-menopausal osteoporosis
  • Gastrointestinal diseases
  • Poor oral hygiene
  • Medication-induced hypo-salivation
  • Increased saliva acidity
  • Gum line recession
  • High sugar consumption

Consequences of poor dental care
Studies suggest that oral bacteria and the inflammation associated with periodontal disease might play a role in some diseases. In addition, diseases such as diabetes can lower your body’s resistance to infection making your oral disorders worse. Medications can also cause a negative effect.

Endocarditis. This is an infection of the inner lining of your heart. Endocarditis usually occurs when bacteria from another part of your body, including your mouth, spread to and damages areas in your heart. I have seen cardiovascular surgeons refuse to perform open heart surgery until a patient’s dental issues have been addressed.

Cardiovascular disease. Research out of the Cleveland Clinic suggests the possible relationship between inflammation within the coronary and carotid arteries and periodontal disease. This could put you at a higher risk for strokes and heart attack.

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Diabetes. This chronic disease reduces the body's resistance to infection which puts your gums at higher risk. In addition, Research from the Mayo Clinic shows that people who have gum disease have a harder time controlling their glucose levels. Gum disease tends to be worse among diabetics due to their ability to ward off infection. In turn an infection of the gums can cause your blood sugars to rise. You can see the problem here!

6 Oral hygiene tips for baby boomers

Maintain good oral hygiene by brushing your teeth at least twice a day. Don’t forget to brush across the tongue as well as there is an ample amount of bacteria there as well.

Remember to floss. Use a high quality waxed floss that is less likely to snag on broken teeth or damage tender gums.

After flossing, rinse your mouth with antiseptic mouthwash, to get rid of any loose food particles. It also will help eliminate any remaining bacteria and adds extra protection

Avoid tobacco. Smokers are more likely to develop gum disease as compared to non-smokers.

Avoid excessive alcohol intake. Alcohol is linked to oral and throat cancers.
Visit the dentist regularly.The adage an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of sure is certainly true.

Take home message
Oral diseases can be extremely painful. Not only does it affect a person’s health, it has other long lasting effects as well It can have an impact on the quality of life, affecting everything from chewing and eating to speaking and social interactions. Remember to purchase dental insurance along with health insurance to help ensure that dentistry becomes a part of an overall wellness plan.


Administration on aging

National Institute in Health