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Oral Care Concerns And The Elderly

Our bodies undergo many changes as we age, which requires changes to our lifestyle and routine. The changes often lead to new concerns or worsen existing issues, and some changes are more noticeable than others. These are some of the common oral changes that are experienced by and affect the elderly.

Dry mouth

Dry mouth is also referred to as Xerostomia. A mouth that is constantly dry increases the risk of tooth decay. A lack of saliva prevents the washing away or flushing of food debris and leads to bad breath. Bacteria in the mouth builds up rapidly when there is a lack of saliva present in the mouth. Saliva also plays a role in keeping the soft tissues of the mouth healthy. When the mouth is constantly dry, the soft tissues such as the tongue and gums can become wounded and become infected.

A dry mouth may be due to issues with the salivary glands located in the mouth, the type of medications used, or naturally occurring with age in the elderly. If your dry mouth started soon after you starting taking a new medication or after a change of medication or dosage, let your doctor know.

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Medications with side-effects that cause dry mouth:

Antihypertensive Drugs
Urinary Incontinence Drugs
Antipsychotic Drugs
Antidiarrheal Medications
Pain Medications

If you find that your mouth is naturally dry, start drinking more water throughout the day. Hold the water in your mouth, or swish it around your mouth before swallowing it. Swishing the water around helps to remove left-over food particles and helps to wet the soft tissues.

Worn Enamel

Over time, the constant actions of grinding, chewing and clenching impacts the condition of the enamel of the teeth. Acid wear that occurs when teeth come into contact with acidic foods damages and results in thinning of the enamel. Worn down or lost enamel cannot be restored naturally. Damaged enamel can only be restored through the use of cosmetic dentistry. The best option is to avoid habits that accelerate enamel wear. Avoid habits such as biting on ice or other hard items that will not be consumed such as pen caps and hard plastic packaging. When participating in sports with physical contact, wear a custom-made sports guard to protect teeth. Clenching or grinding teeth during sleep is another habit that needs to be addressed. A custom-made night guard acts as a protective buffer between the teeth to prevent damage to the enamel. When consuming highly acidic foods or beverages, remember to rinse your mouth thoroughly afterwards to wash away any acidic residue from the teeth.

Declining Gum Health

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Gum tissue acts as a barrier to prevent bacteria from entering and residing under the gums, where they can cause an infection. When the gums are neglected, they break down, become weakened and suffer from gingivitis. Regular brushing and flossing are important to prevent gum disease which leads to infections, tooth decay and eventual tooth loss when left untreated. Regular smoking over a long period threatens gum health and lowers the immune system’s effectiveness when fighting infections. If your gums bleed, feel tender or are swollen, let your dentist or dental hygienist know. Treatment is necessary to restore your gum health and prevent further damage when bone loss has occurred in the mouth.

Oral Cancer Risk

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Most people who are diagnosed with oral cancers are over the age of fifty-five according to the Cancer Treatment Centers of America. Historically, men are twice as likely to have oral cancer when compared to women. Smoking, use of tobacco products, HPV infections, alcohol abuse, and other factors play a role in developing various kinds of cancer. Regular dental exams, comprehensive dental assessments, and oral cancer screenings are vital to ensure that any potential issues are investigated right away. If you notice any bleeding, lumps, bumps, or cuts that stay for more than two weeks, let your dentist know. Difficulty swallowing is another sign that should be checked by your dentist.

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Keeping these areas of concern in mind as move into your elderly years, you can enjoy a great quality of life and still enjoy your favourite foods.


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