Oral health plays an important role in the elderly. Compromised oral health can cause malnutrition and deterioration of general health. Older adults often have multi morbidities, which include hypertension, cardiovascular diseases, metabolic diseases and cancer. Pain, infection, partial and complete loss of teeth causing chewing difficulties frequently affect older adults and limit their food choice. This calls for extra care to keep the teeth in good shape. With the advancements in medical care, access, and health promotion activities, older adults are living longer and also retaining teeth longer, which significantly increases the demand for dental services. Read this article as Dr. Ramya Shenoy, Associate Professor & QMR, Dept. Public Health Dentistry, Manipal College of Dental Sciences, Mangalore, Manipal Academy of Higher Education shares tips to prevent ageing teeth and gums.
Here are a few dental problems and some tips to protect ageing teeth and gums:
1. Dental Caries
As a person grows older there is a teardown of tooth enamel erosion due to wear and tear. Sometimes there will be chipping of the enamel and even fractured teeth. This may lead to poor bite, later night grinding, causing temporomandibular joint problems and difficulty in mouth opening. Root caries is also a common problem seen in the elderly. You can prevent dental caries by brushing with fluoride toothpaste, eating tooth-healthy food, avoiding snacking and sipping drinks and visiting your dentist regularly.
2. Gums (Gingiva)
Removal of plaque from the teeth is important to maintain healthy gums. Initially, it is called gingivitis and later to periodontitis. If not done, it can cause swelling and bleeding of the gums. Loss of bone is the primary cause of loosening of the teeth and one of the indications for extraction.
If you come across the following problems, bleeding when you brush your teeth, receded gums, bad breath please do not delay the dental check-up. Here are a few tips to avoid issues in the gingiva and the tooth:
- Brush twice a day using fluoridated toothpaste and floss every day.
- Change your brush once in three months. The worn-out bristles may damage the gums.
- Rinse a mouth with mouthwash as prescribed by the dentist.
- See your dentist regularly for check-ups and cleanings.
- Avoid smoking.
3. Dry mouth
As a person gets older, the protective effect of saliva decreases. The person may feel that their mouth is dry more often. This is due to ageing as well as side effects of drugs prescribed for diabetes, hypertension and antidepressants. This may cause more dental decay and can lead to gingivitis. You can follow these tips to avoid dry mouth:
- Drink water frequently.
- It is better to chew sugarless candy as it stimulates the salivary gland and salivary secretion.
- In case a change of drug has led to dry mouth, please consult the physician and take help.
- Avoid in-between snacks, cold drinks and acidic juices. Don't swish these drinks around the mouth. They release acids and wear away the enamel on the teeth.
- Avoid sugary food in between meals. It is always better to have them with the main meals.
4. Oral cancer
There is a chance that older people could develop cancer of the mouth, tongue and lips as they grow older. For those who smoke and drink alcohol, there are higher odds of developing oral cancer. The sharp tooth may also cause oral cancer. So, it is always better to schedule an appointment if a burning sensation persists, presence of an ulcer or lump in the mouth. Also, avoid drinking alcohol and smoking to prevent oral cancer.
Also Read: Do You Know How Tobacco Causes Oral Cancer
5. Denture wearers
Poor eating habits and malnutrition are major causes of loss of teeth. Loss of all the teeth or partial loss has a drastic effect on the dietary intakes of older adults causing a stage of compromised nutrition. These missing teeth can be replaced by dentures. The adults with the dentures need to follow the below instructions:
- Clean the dentures after eating. It is important to remove the food particles sticking to the dentures. If not done, this may cause caries and gingivitis.
- Clean the dentures using a soft bristle toothbrush and soap. Do not use toothpaste or bleaching powder to clean them. Store the dentures in a closed container and do not wear them at bedtime. Soak the dentures overnight.
- If the dentures are not fitting properly, please see the dentist. Ill-fitting dentures can cause ulcers, gingival inflammation and dental caries.
Ageing is not reversible. Old age in own life is that period where the body’s performance diminishes. It is important to consult a dentist at regular intervals to maintain good oral health.
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