Good oral health is a major factor in maintaining overall health; however, as adults age, their dental needs may also change. If you are caring for an elderly parent or if you are 65 or older, learning about the effects of aging on dental health can help avoid problems and improve overall dental health.
The effect of physical changes on oral health
As people get older, their body systems undergo many changes, which can then affect the mouth.
- Decreased bone and muscle mass: Decreased bone mass may affect the jaw bone and any dental implants that are joined to the bone.
- Cognitive changes: Conditions such as dementia may have an impact on a person’s ability to remember to brush and floss daily.
- Physical limitations: Physical limitations associated with aging can affect your oral health. For instance, if you suffer from decreased mobility in your hand due to arthritis, it may be difficult to brush your teeth physically.
- Changes in the body may make older patients more sensitive to medications, particularly those used in dentistry such as anesthetics.
Tips for working with physical limitations
Acknowledging any physical limitations and making a plan to keep oral health a priority is crucial in making sure you maintain good oral health.
- Buy easy-to-open flip top toothpaste and mouthwash
- Purchase pre-flossed flossers
- If necessary, request that home health aids assist in oral care
- Continue to attend regular dental cleanings
Common dental problems for the elderly
Because of the physiological changes of growing older, certain dental conditions are associated with aging.
- Xerostomia: Also known as dry mouth, xerostomia affects up to 30% of all dental patients 65 years and older. Many medications used within the senior population list xerostomia as a side effect.
- Increased risk of root caries: Increase gum recession combined with increased xerostomia creates the perfect environment for root cavities. The ADA estimates that nearly 50% of all patients over the age of 75 have root caries.
- Increased risk of oral cancer: The risk of oral cancer increases with age. Be vigilant for symptoms such as sores or difficulty swallowing.
Caring for your elder’s oral health
If you are caring for an elderly parent, you may need to take an active role in caring for their oral health. Keep the following tips in mind:
- If your parent can brush and floss on his/her own, encourage their independence; however, if necessary give gentle reminders daily for brushing and flossing.
- Offer assistance when it is needed.
- Schedule regular dentist appointments and arrange for the appropriate transportation.
- When caring for a patient with dementia, limit the number of people and distractions while providing care.
- Offer the use of an electric toothbrush as this might make each brushing session more efficient.
- If your elder wears prosthetics such as dentures, inspect them daily and make sure they have been cleaned properly.
For older patients that have multiple medical conditions, it is easy to neglect oral care routines; however, because bacteria in the mouth can cause infections, diligently following a healthy oral care routine can help prevent unnecessary infections as well as gum disease.