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 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 after you began taking a new medication or after a change of dosage, let your doctor know.
Medications with side-effects that cause dry mouth:
Urinary Incontinence Drugs
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 helps to remove left-over food, and helps to hydrate the mouth.
Over time, the constant actions of grinding, chewing and clenching affects the condition of the enamel. Acid wear that occurs when teeth come into contact with acidic foods damages enamel. Over time, it results in thinning of the enamel. Worn down or lost enamel cannot be restored naturally. Damaged enamel is only restored with cosmetic dentistry.
Avoiding habits that accelerate enamel wear are key. Avoid habits such as biting on ice or other hard items. Chewing on items such as pen caps and hard plastic packaging must be avoided. When playing sports with physical contact, wear a custom-made sports guard to protect teeth. Clenching or grinding teeth during sleep is another issue that needs treatment. A night guard acts as a protective buffer between the top and bottom teeth. When consuming acidic foods or beverages, rinse thoroughly afterward to wash away acidic residue from the teeth.
Declining Gum Health
Gum tissue acts as a barrier to prevent bacteria from entering and residing under the gums. Bacteria can cause infection once there. Neglected gums break down, become weakened and suffer from gingivitis. Regular brushing and flossing are vital to prevent gum disease. Untreated gum disease leads to infections, tooth decay, and eventually tooth loss. Smoking over an extended period threatens gum health and lowers the immune system’s effectiveness. If your gums bleed, feel tender or are swollen, let your dentist or dental hygienist know. Treatment is necessary to restore gum health and prevent further damage when bone loss occurs.
Oral Cancer Risk
Most people 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 exams, and oral cancer screenings are vital to ensure potential issues are treated right away. If you notice 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.
Keeping these areas of concern in mind as move into your elderly years, allow you to enjoy greater quality of life and still enjoy your favourite foods.