Elderly Oral Health Problems and Solutions
Oral Health Care Is Important in the Elderly
Here is a scary number, the cost of treating oral disease in Europe by 2020… drumroll, and the number is expected to hit almost 100 BILLION Euros!!! (93 billion euros to be exact).
That is a huge, huge number. And a very big portion of that spending is going to be on taking care of the oral needs of the elderly. In fact, estimates place the amount expended for older oral care to exceed the amounts that will be spent upon both dementia treatment and strokes–combined.
For multiple reasons, the older segment of the populace is more likely to suffer from dental caries, periodontal disease and other oral health disorders. And it is not an insignificant matter, as poor oral health not only significantly undermines one’s quality of life but periodontal disease, in particular, is closely linked to serious health issues such as: heart disease, dementia, systemic inflammation and even emotional ills.
And in terms of maintaining good oral health amongst the elderly segment of the population, this concern is only going to accelerate over the coming years. The last fifty years has seen an enormous shift in our global society as the average life span has increased significantly. Globally, our population is increasing at the rate of 1.7% annually, however the elderly segment is growing at the rate of 2.5% annually–that is 50% faster. The United Nations estimates that by 2050 adults over 80 will make up 20% of our population!
Clearly taking care of our teeth as we grow older will become more and more important as our life expectancy continues to grow, and as the elderly class expands significantly.
Dental Health and Aging
While aging is a natural process, there are specific physical and behavioral aspects to growing old that come with that process. Some of these factors are:
- The reduction in saliva production that is associated with aging, a condition known as xerostomia. While such “dry mouth” is not a condition that affects all seniors it is one that is commonly found. Often it is due to other physical conditions associated with aging, such as diabetes or medications that are being taken for other ills. Saliva is critical for maintaining oral health. It balances the pH in the mouth to reduce the acidity that destroys teeth and gums. It helps in the remineralization of one’s enamel and even assists in the reduction of harmful bacteria.
- The oral mucosa diminishes as one ages. This protective membrane that lines the interior of your oral cavity grow thin as we age, it stiffens and loses elasticity resulting in a smoother, stiffer and thinner protective lining. Even one’s tongue deteriorates as we age. As this oral mucosa weakens this has a negative effect upon one’s oral, as well as general, health. The oral cavity is the primary entry point of bacteria and pathogens into the body. As the oral mucosa diminishes the susceptibility to contagion increases.
- And, if the factor of age-related deterioration was not enough, the wearing of dentures and prosthetic appliances, common amongst the elderly, presents their own set of challenges to the mucosa. Poorly fitted appliances, as well as improper maintenance, can damage and lower the condition of the mucosa.
- One other aspect of aging and oral health is that the structure of the dental pulp, the living connective tissue inside your tooth, changes as we get older. It becomes more and more fibrous and the blood supply diminishes as well. The end result is that elderly teeth don’t repair as rapidly.
While there are other factors associated with the aging process and oral disease, the bottom line is that while we cannot reverse the aging process one can take effective action to promote better oral health.
Oddly the main barriers to better oral health amongst the elderly have more to do with human attitudes, lack of education and lack of resources for treatment rather than the aging process itself. We have the tools and technology to greatly improve oral health in the elderly, they just aren’t used enough or easily accessible.
Oral Hygiene Tips for Seniors
- First, take an interest in their oral health. It is not a secondary health issue as good oral health is very much a part of being healthy overall.
- Second, make sure that they are seeing a dental professional regularly for cleanings and checkups. Especially if they are wearing dental devices or have had implants, their gums and teeth need regular cleanings and inspection.
- Third, ask about their routine oral care regimen. Are they brushing and flossing twice a day? If they are eating sweets, are they at least giving their mouth a water rinse after about 10 minutes (you want saliva to have a chance to neutralize the sugars first, for a few minutes)?
- Also, check if they are suffering from dry mouth. This could be due to aging but it is also very common with taking certain medications. A chronic dry mouth will accelerate gum disease and tooth decay, as well as open the door to potential infections. Adequate hydration is important. Gum chewing can stimulate saliva, using a Xylitol gum is recommended. The light usage of an essential oil blend, such as OraRestore from Great Oral Health, can promote saliva production as well.
And while there is more that could be done, there is another step that could provide significant benefit to their oral health–the regular use of oral probiotics. Just like our guts, bacteria play a critical role in creating and maintaining good health. Adding beneficial bacteria to their daily oral care uses the power of nature to restore, rebalance and repair their mouths, as well as fighting off a number of ear, nose and throat infections.
(Find out more information at www.greatoralhealth.com).