We all know that brushing our teeth can keep them healthy, but does it help our overall health and well-being? You bet! Some common changes occur with your mouth and teeth as you age, but some things that you might consider normal are not and should be followed up on. Knowing how and when to alert your dentist can help you prevent or manage chronic illness.
What are the risks of poor oral health? The risks can go beyond just pain and dry mouth. Poor oral health can:
- Worsen your chronic medical conditions. If you suffer from diabetes or heart disease, the inflammation in your mouth can make those diseases worse. Gum disease can increase your blood sugar, which aggravates your diabetes. It can also result in thickened neck blood vessels, taking a toll on your heart.
- Hurt your nutrition. Those with broken, chipped teeth or cavities can find it difficult to chew hard foods. Most often those hard foods are the healthy ones (nuts, whole fruits and veggies, etc.). Many soft foods that might replace those healthy foods are processed and have added sugars and fats (pre-made shakes, ready-to-eat meals, etc.).
- Limit your social health and well-being. Those with teeth or dentures in ill repair, bad breath, or dry mouth may feel embarrassed talking with others, which can limit social interactions.
So, what’s normal and what’s not? Here are a few things that older adults might think are normal parts of aging but actually are not:
- Gum disease. This is an infection that creates inflammation and pain in the gums. It can result in bad breath, gum tenderness, toothaches, and even tooth loss.
- Cavities, or tooth decay. It’s not just for kids! Older adults actually have higher rates of tooth decay than children. Cavities can occur on any tooth, including underneath or next to existing fillings.
- Dry mouth. This condition involves not having enough saliva (spit) to be comfortable when talking or eating. Lack of saliva can also contribute to tooth decay. Ask your primary care provider to investigate why you are experiencing dry mouth, and discuss treatment options.
How to keep those pearly whites healthy and happy:
- Brush twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste.
- Don’t forget about dentures—brush twice daily and swish and spit with mouthwash or water.
- Floss daily.
- See your dentist twice a year for routine cleanings and checkups—even if you have no natural teeth.
- Replace your toothbrush every three months, or sooner if the bristles are bent.
- Eat a well-balanced diet avoiding processed foods.
- Avoid tobacco and alcohol.
Even though older adults are at higher risk of developing these conditions, they are not inevitable. Using these preventive strategies can help improve not only your dental health but also your overall health and well-being!
Learn more about Carrie’s publication’s CNA: Nursing Assistant Certification Textbooks and Workbooks.
Adopters of her publications are able to receive consulting work to adapt the book’s curriculum and also presentations on the following topics:
- What are the determinants of good health?
- Health Literacy…how to better understand the language of health care to navigate the health care system effectively.
- Does nutrition and physical activity play a large role in how we age?
- Managing medications, traditional vs. alternative.
- How to support an older adult who wants to “age in place” and what that means.
- How to know when an older adult needs extra services and what those are. Skilled care facility vs. assisted living facility.
- How to adapt caregiving to the “silver tsunami” who have higher expectations of care and are more informed on their health care options than ever before.
- Why is there a current caregiver crisis in the U.S.?