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Good Oral Health Important As You Age

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Good Oral Health Important As You Age

Good Oral Health Important As You Age

February 01, 2006
By: Jean Johnson for Dental1

“I watched my aunt die of cancer,” said Joy Carlson of San Francisco. “She took care of herself right to the end. The hospice people complimented her and said that part of the reason her last months and days were as good as they were was because she didn’t neglect herself.”

Carlson’s memories largely surround how her aunt maintained her body’s nutritional needs with protein drinks and smoothies even as her appetite dwindled down to a whisper. Still Carlson said that, “Auntie Peg stayed with her hygiene and grooming too. She got her teeth brushed and her makeup on most days. And she kept those plastic toothpicks with the floss in them by her chair. She’d had a lot of dental work during her life and always did try to take good care of her teeth.”
Take Action
Develop and follow a regular pattern of oral hygiene:

If medications cause a dry mouth, drink plenty of water throughout the day.


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Take your dentures out when you sleep.

Make regular dental checkups a priority.

A nice smile is attainable at any age.

Since the population that is currently aging grew up without community water fluoridation, oral diseases and conditions are relatively prevalent according to the National Center of Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (a division of the Centers for Disease Control – CDC). The center even provides an update on the stats. As of the 2000 census, 35 out of almost 300 million Americans are 65 years or older. By 2050 that number is expected to increase to 48 million.

Message from American Academy of Periodontology

“People are living longer and healthier lives, and older adults are also more likely to keep their teeth for a lifetime than they were a decade ago,” notes AAP literature. “Studies indicate, however, that older people have the highest rates of periodontal disease and need to do more to maintain good oral health.”

As periodontal experts are aware, inflammation and infection in gum tissue is an issue that needs addressing earlier than later. “At least half of non-institutionalized people over age 55 have periodontitis, and receding gum tissue affects the majority of older people.” Clearly, the message is that oldsters are tending to let things slide and not get for regular cleanings.

A Litany of Oral Health Problems Can Accompany Age

Part of the reason older people tend to suffer from poor oral health is that, like others who operate on slim financial resources and do not have dental insurance, they tend to put off seeing their dentist. Women, in particular, are often at risk inasmuch as they have generally had lower incomes throughout their lives and may never have had dental insurance. While Medicaid, the jointly funded federal and state health insurance program for certain low-income and needy people, does provide funds for dental needs, it was not designed to provide routine dental care.

Also, medications that many older Americans take can cause dry mouth which is a problem since saliva helps fight decay. Similarly, periodontal disease is more common in patients over age 65, with severity increasing as people age. Gum recession that tends to increase with age also exposes tooth roots to decay. Finally, oral and pharyngeal cancers are primarily diagnosed in the elderly.

Smart Oral Health Moves for Oldsters

Much of the wisdom surrounding oral care is applicable to all ages. Consequently habits one develops on the upward side of life’s trajectory will pay off since they can simply be maintained as one eases down the slippery slope of elderhood.

Keep the fluoride ramped up with toothpastes and rinses, maintain careful brushing and flossing, and see the dentist regularly to have teeth and gums checked for cavities and infection as well as the oral cavity screened for cancers.

Additionally, know that smoking gives you seven times the the risk of developing periodontal disease and figures significantly in the development of mouth and throat cancers. This applies to any form of tobacco use. Similarly, excessive drinking of alcoholic beverages also predisposes elders to oral and throat cancers.

In sum, try to be nice to your body and respect the fact that age does not come without its particular tolls. Indeed, according to Cindy Clifton, C.D.A. (certified dental assistant) in Portland, Oregon, it helps if people realize that they’ll need to start thinking a bit more creatively about how to manage their oral care as they age.

“It’s often harder to floss as patients get older because they lose the dexterity in their fingers,” said Clifton with a soft, gentle tone to her voice. She is an Alaskan Native and has a profound respect for elders based on her cultural heritage. “One way they could compensate would be to come in for more cleanings – like every 3 to 4 months. But many don’t carry insurance and cost is a concern.”

Clifton paused to consider, looking out on a forested hillside caught in a mist of rain. “Electric toothbrushes can help. Also there are flossing aids available like hummingbirds – small plastic wishbone-like picks that hold a piece of floss taut.”

There we have then. Not only is there no getting out of here alive, there’s no backing off from our oral hygiene drill as we age. Oh well, half of it’s getting into the habit. Wasn’t it old Bucky Beaver advertising for Ipana that said: Brusha-Brusha-Brusha?

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