Dental hygiene and habits—brushing and flossing daily, and visiting our dentist for a checkup every six months—are always important, not only for our oral health but for our overall health. However, they can sometimes fall by the wayside as we age. It’s important to remember that getting out of these habits can be detrimental to the health of our mouths and our bodies. A small problem can become a big problem when left untended, and this can spell trouble. Here are four reasons why proper dental care is absolutely critical for seniors:
Increased Risk for Pneumonia
In older adults, pneumonia can often be linked to poor oral health, as bacteria found in the mouth can be inhaled through water droplets to the lungs as we breathe. Taking proper care to brush, floss, and receive treatment quickly when issues do arise (such as decay or the onset of periodontal disease) will go a long way to helping preventing pneumonia.
Complications Associated with Diabetes
Diabetics must be especially diligent about oral care as they age. When periodontitis (gum disease) becomes severe, it can negatively affect the body’s ability to properly use insulin. This can make controlling blood sugar very difficult, and can increase the risk of complications associated with diabetes. Unfortunately, the relationship between diabetes and gum disease goes both ways. Being diabetic puts you at an increased risk for developing periodontitis as well.
Increased Risk for Heart Disease and Stroke
The relationship between periodontal disease and our overall health is becoming more clear. According to the American Academy of Periodontology, having periodontal disease doubles your risk of developing heart disease. In fact, the presence of certain oral issues, like gum disease, missing teeth, cavities, etc. are becoming reliable predictors of future heart disease (not unlike cholesterol levels.)
Complications Associated with Dry Mouth
The complications of dry mouth, a common side effect of medications or cancer treatments, go way beyond discomfort. Saliva is essential to the health of our teeth. It protects them from acid and decay, and prevents infections caused by bacteria, fungi, and viruses in our mouths. Dry mouth means saliva levels are very low, leaving teeth and gums vulnerable to bacteria and the acidity in our food. This can increase sensitivity, enamel erosion, cavities and the occurrence of gum disease and other problems.
As we grow older, it’s important to keep great oral hygiene habits and regular checkups, and to monitor for problems like dry mouth. If arthritis or limited mobility is affecting your ability to brush properly, try switching to an electric toothbrush and flosser picks instead of traditional brushes and flosses. If you’re wearing dentures, be sure to keep them properly cleaned on a daily basis. And be sure to practice good health habits, such as eating a properly balanced diet, drinking plenty of water, and curbing damaging habits such as smoking.