Ageing has a number of effects on health; the risk of many conditions and health problems, from diabetes and cancer to hearing loss and sight problems, increases with age, but many people live very long and fulfilling lives without suffering from poor oral health and lifestyle choices are very important in older age.
Oral health is also affected by age and studies have shown that good oral health can help to decrease the risk of several serious health problems, from heart disease to Alzheimer’s disease.
Dental conditions in older people
Older people have a higher risk of some dental problems, including dry mouth, gum disease and tooth loss.
Dry mouth is a condition, which occurs when the mouth becomes dry, often because of a lack of saliva. Dry mouth can be caused by taking certain types of medication, cancer treatment and some health conditions, including Sjogren’s syndrome. If you suffer from dry mouth, this can also increase your risk of decay and gum disease because saliva plays an important role in removing plaque and food particles from the mouth. Solutions for dry mouth include chewing sugar-free gum to stimulate saliva production, drinking plenty of fluid and using artificial drops to moisten the mouth; in cases where dry mouth is a side-effect of taking medication, changing medication can help to combat dry mouth.
Gum disease: gum disease affects people of all ages, but it tends to be fairly common in older people. Gum disease is caused by plaque and bacteria and it can result from poor oral hygiene and a diet rich in sugary foods. Many factors which may be relevant to older people can increase the risk of gum disease, including poorly-fitted dentures, dry mouth, smoking, diabetes and medical treatments, such as chemotherapy.
Tooth loss: many people find that they lose teeth in their old age. Tooth loss can be caused by decay, gum disease or trauma, but gum disease is the most common cause. There are various tooth replacement treatments available, including dental bridges, dentures and dental implants. It is beneficial to replace missing teeth to improve the aesthetic of the smile and the function of the mouth.
Promoting good oral health in older people
Oral health is really important for older people and dentists encourage regular check-ups. For adults who struggle to make it to a dental surgery twice a year, community dental services are available and home visits may be possible.
In addition to regular dental checks, older people should also maintain good oral hygiene. In cases where it is difficult to clean the teeth properly as a result of loss of coordination and movement, it is possible to buy brushes that are easier to use and hold; carers may also have to step in and help with teeth cleaning.
Oral hygiene tips are the same for all adults; brushing is really important because it removes plaque and food debris from the mouth and also polishes the teeth, leaving them smooth and shiny. The teeth should be brushed twice a day and it is also a good idea to clean the tongue, as bacteria tend to collect here and this is a major cause of bad breath. Flossing is also important because it tackles areas of the mouth that are hard to target with a toothbrush.