Leslie Scott-Smith, Director of Oral Health | Aug 4, 2023
As we age, many aspects of our health require extra attention and care and are essential to maintaining overall health and well-being. Dental health is no exception, yet it is often overlooked or ignored.
Proper oral hygiene can prevent a host of issues, such as tooth decay, gum disease, and even severe health conditions like heart disease and stroke.
Whether for you or a loved one, this information will help you understand why good oral hygiene is important for older adults. Let's explore the importance of senior dental care and some tips for maintaining healthy teeth and gums.
Our teeth and gums become more susceptible to various dental problems as we age. Some of the most common dental issues in seniors include:
Tooth decay occurs when plaque and bacteria build up on the teeth, producing acid that erodes the tooth enamel. Seniors are more prone to tooth decay due to receding gums which expose tooth roots and make them more susceptible to decay. Additionally, medications can cause a decrease in saliva flow, leading to dry mouth and increasing the risk of tooth decay.
Gum disease, or periodontal disease, is a bacterial infection affecting the gums and bone that supports teeth. Seniors are more prone to gum disease due to age-related changes in the mouth, like receding gums, decreased saliva flow, and medications that cause gum overgrowth.
Tooth loss is a common dental problem in seniors caused by gum disease, tooth decay, or injury. Missing teeth can lead to difficulty chewing and speaking and a decrease in self-confidence.
Seniors should visit their dentist to examine their teeth and gums for signs of decay or disease at least twice a year. Routine dental check-ups and cleanings are essential to optimal dental health and preventing underlying dental problems like plaque and tartar buildup, which can lead to gum disease and tooth decay. Additionally, seniors who wear dentures or implants should schedule regular check-ups to ensure proper fit and function.
As we age, mobility can become a barrier to proper dental care. For those in wheelchairs or who struggle to get in and out of chairs, visiting a traditional dental office can be difficult. Luckily there are several options for seniors to receive dental care in a more convenient setting.
Seniors can benefit from professional dental care without needing transportation or leaving their familiar environment. Mobile dental clinics are specially designed vehicles that bring dental care directly to seniors' communities, such as assisted living or community centers. These clinics typically have dental chairs, tools, and equipment necessary for dental examinations, cleanings, and basic treatments.
Home dental care services can often be arranged for seniors who are homebound or have significant mobility challenges. These services involve dental professionals visiting individuals' homes to provide preventive care, dental cleanings, oral examinations, and basic treatments. Home dental care is an excellent way for seniors to receive essential oral health services in the comfort and convenience of their residences.
Many communities offer dental outreach programs that provide free or reduced-cost dental services to underserved populations, including seniors. These programs may include dental screenings, cleanings, fillings, and even extractions. They are often organized by local dental schools, nonprofit organizations, or community health centers as a resource for seniors facing financial or physical barriers to regular dental care.
Teledentistry offers a convenient and accessible option for seniors with mobility issues to receive dental care and consultations remotely. Through video calls or online platforms, seniors can discuss their concerns, receive assessments, and even get treatment recommendations. Teledentistry is particularly useful for routine check-ups, follow-ups, preventive education, and initial evaluations of dental issues.
In addition to regular dental check-ups and cleanings, there are several things seniors can do to maintain healthy oral hygiene. Here are some tips:
Aging and dental health have a direct correlation with our overall health. Regular oral cancer screening is crucial for the early detection of oral cancer, which is more common among older individuals. Detecting oral cancer in its early stages significantly increases the chances of successful treatment and better outcomes.
Seniors are at a higher risk of developing oral cancer due to factors like a long history of tobacco or alcohol use, weakened immune systems, and prolonged exposure to potential carcinogens. Early detection and timely intervention can prevent the spread of the disease, reduce the need for aggressive treatments, and minimize possible complications, leading to improved overall health and well-being.
Regular oral cancer screenings educate seniors on risk factors, lifestyle modifications, and preventive measures. Dentists can discuss the importance of quitting tobacco or reducing alcohol consumption, maintaining good oral hygiene, and the potential benefits of a healthy diet. These screenings also provide peace of mind for seniors and their families, as they can rest assured knowing they are taking proactive steps toward maintaining their oral health.
Oral health is not only important for your teeth and gums, but it also has significant connections to overall health. Daily care and regular visits can prevent sickness and disease, speech problems, and malnutrition. But many older adults in Minnesota haven’t received the care they need — until now.
The Walker Methodist Oral Health Program is the first and only program of its kind in the state, providing oral assessments for residents, educating residents and team members, and performing teledentistry visits for those who struggle with mobility.
If you or a loved one is looking for access to high-quality dental care for seniors, look no further! Click below to learn more about oral hygiene at Walker Methodist.