According to the United Nations, the estimated population of people over 65 is nearly 727 million globally, expected to double by the end of 2050. Though the increasing population of senior citizens in the current demographics indicates advancements in the healthcare sector, age also comes with many complications and comorbidities. Dental issues and improper dental heath are turning out to be one of the most common problems in the senior citizen population. We might have encountered a senior with a set of dentures or missing teeth and, in our humble understanding, would have accounted that to ageing. But the National Health & Nutritional Examination Survey conducted in the US indicated that seniors over 65 have an average of 18.90 remaining teeth. Moreover, 23.93 % of individuals aged 65 – 74 have no teeth, while 31.30% of those above 75 have no teeth.
The dental diseases that come with increasing age result from many factors, from medication to lifestyle habits like smoking. These oral issues can develop into more acute conditions and other health morbidities when not appropriately addressed. Maintaining proper dental hygiene is a necessity and a precaution with growing age.
Why Take Care of your Teeth in Old Age?
There are significant oral health problems that come with old age. These are listed as follows: –
1. Darkened Teeth: These can either result from thinning the outer enamel layer, allowing the darker yellow dentin (tissue underlying tooth enamel), or from consuming staining foods and beverages. People having a history of smoking or oral tobacco consumption are prone to developing this problem.
2. Dry Mouth: Disease and medications are the primary cause of reduced saliva flow in the mouth. Cancer treatment that utilises radiation in the head and neck region is a significant cause. Since senior citizens consume more medicines due to degrading health, this is not a rare condition to disturb seniors.
3. Root Decay: Roots that lack enamel, unlike the crown, are prone to decay when exposed to acids found in food. The exposure of roots is a result of receding gums.
4. Gum Disease: Probably the most common of oral diseases. Though gum diseases are also witnessed in younger adults nowadays, these are common in seniors. The root cause of gum disorder is the accumulation of plaque. Other factors that lead to gum disorders include tobacco products, improper brushing and dental floss, leftover food in teeth, poor dentures, and underlying diseases such as cancer and diabetes.
5. Thrush: It is caused by the increase in the growth of a kind of fungus in the mouth. Thrush is a result of the immune system affecting conditions or excessive drug consumption.
6. Denture issues: Many seniors resort to dentures for chewing needs. This artificial set of dental organs comes with many complexities, such as improper fittings that can lead to infections or improper denture hygiene, which can augment the growth of fungus in the mouth.
Not Just Dental Ailments
The oral issues that come with growing age may initially seem like minute issues, but they could also be initial warnings for something critical. Oral health issues have also been observed to lead to serious health complications. These complications include:
1. Respiratory Diseases: The bacteria that accumulate in the mouth can further travel downward to the lungs, resulting in respiratory infection. With growing age and diminishing immunity, pneumonia becomes a severe challenge to seniors, leading to breathing issues.
2. Cardiovascular diseases: The excessive bacteria build-up in the mouth can get into the bloodstream via exposed gums or tooth decays. Once in the bloodstream, it can result in severe infection that attacks cardiovascular health. People with heart-related co-morbidities are always at risk if they have improper dental hygiene.
3. Endocarditis: It is an inflammatory disorder that attacks the linings of the heart valves. Excessive bacteria can spread into the bloodstream from oral cavities and result in infections.
4. Dementia: The likeliness of bacteria advancing from the mouth, through the bloodstream, and eventually into the brain cannot be written off. In those cases, the presence of infection-causing bacteria in the brain can lead to damaged brain cells, impacting the thought process of the individuals. In some cases, these can lead to Dementia and Alzheimer’s in seniors.
These dental diseases can be avoided if one maintains proper oral health and dental hygiene. While oral health is essential for a person of any age, it holds the utmost importance for seniors. The mouth can act as a habitable ground for many bacteria, which can further make their way into the body. Seniors who already are at risk of significant health concerns when encountering these bacteria can result in serious complications. Hence, practising a proper oral hygiene routine takes centre stage for any senior citizen.
How to Take Care of Your Dental Hygiene?
1. Daily Brushing: Regular brushing is a practice that must be adhered to religiously to avoid dental problems. Brush teeth at least twice a day to get rid of bacteria build-up and remove plaque, which is a major cause of gum and root problems. While brushing is advised in the morning and before bed, one can also exercise post meals to remove food stuck in the teeth.
2. Using Fluoride Toothpaste: Fluoride, extracted from fluorine, is a significant component in many kinds of toothpaste. However, few dental health care products avoid it. Fluoride is believed to help prevent cavities, and lack of fluoride can lead to root problems and even tooth decay.
3. Daily dental floss: Flossing at least once a day is another practice that must be encouraged in seniors. Flossing helps remove plaque and food build-up between the teeth, which toothbrushes find hard to reach. Flossing avoids terrible odour and helps prevent cavities and gum diseases. While regular flossing using dental floss is advised, precautions must be taken to ensure the technique isn’t harsh on the teeth and gums. Aggressive flossing can also lead to bleeding gums.
4. Antiseptic Mouthwash: Mouthwash containing chlorhexidine, an antiseptic agent, can reduce the build-up of plaque and gingivitis. Regular use of mouthwash can be not only helpful in maintaining oral health but also avoids lousy odour, which can be a common side effect of medicines advised to seniors for other diseases and complications.
5. Denture Cleaning: For senior citizens that use a set of dentures, it is recommended to be cleaned daily. While dentures are advised to be kept in water overnight, which acts as a cleaning agent, it is not enough to remove the bacterial build-up that accumulates during the day. Utilising an appropriate denture cleaning agent thus becomes a necessity. Moreover, dentures must be removed for at least 4 hours daily to maintain gum health.
6. Regular dental check-ups: Regular dentist visits also boost in-house oral hygiene practices. A periodic dental check allows for the early diagnosis of dental problems like gum disorders and cavities. Dentists have become more accessible in today’s time and age. While children and young people are at fewer risks of dental health issues, senior citizens also face risks of serious diseases.
7. Lifestyle Changes: Prolonged smoking account for many dental issues such as darkened teeth, staining, bleeding gums, root decay, etc. Exposure to tobacco can also lead to mouth cancer. In senior citizen smokers, around 50% of the population over 65 years of age are likely to have no teeth, as per a study. Sugary drinks are also a reason for dental issues and a cause of concern as they lead to plaque build-up. Moreover, consumption of aerated and sugar drinks also exposes teeth to other food acidic substances that can lead to root decay and gum problems. Sugar is also a significant cause of tooth cavities. Following a healthy lifestyle and healthy calcium-rich food is critical to maintaining good teeth.
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From the above article, the significance of maintaining proper oral health can be easily inferred. Maintaining good dental hygiene and incorporating consistent lifestyle changes are a must for any senior citizen. The lack of proper dental hygiene can lead to serious health ailments. These ailments not just include dental diseases like gingivitis or tooth loss, or root decay but, when unattended, can cause other bodily complications like cardiovascular issues. You can never underestimate the joy of a tooth-full mouth. Furthermore, young adults and children should be motivated to encourage and practice good dental care. This will not only safeguard them from future ailments but also bring the required attitude shift of the added emphasis on oral care to the common platform.
What is the most common dental disease?
Root Decay, gingivitis, and foul odour are a few of the most common dental diseases. In seniors, tooth loss is also mentioned in typical dental conditions.
How do I know if my tooth infection is spreading?
The signs and symptoms of infection spreading to the body include dizziness, headache, fever, chills, increased heart and pulse rate, diarrhoea & vomiting. If any of these symptoms are diagnosed post diagnosis of tooth infection, visiting a medical practitioner is advisable.
Does throbbing tooth mean infection?
Throbbing pain in the tooth is a sign of an infection in usual circumstances, but infection may not be the only reason. A physical injury can also result in the same.
Can a dentist pull an infected tooth?
Yes, dental medicine practitioners are capable of removing the infected tooth. The tooth is pulled out in case of cavities, root problems, or infections to avoid its spread to neighbouring teeth.
Can a tooth infection go to your brain?
A brain abscess can be developed through infection in other body parts, including the tooth. The symptoms are similar to infection symptoms, but notable concerns include dizziness, confusion or irritability, muscle weakness, and seizures. In case of encountering any such sign, a patient must contact a medical professional immediately.