Common Oral Health Issues That Seniors Face

As we age, we face a host of potential health problems that generally continues to grow with time. Of course, there are steps we can take to prevent many illnesses and injuries as we age, such as adopting a healthy lifestyle complete with suitable diet and exercise.

Some things are unavoidable, though. No matter how much we try to stay healthy, we cannot turn back the clock, so it’s best to prepare. The good news is that modern medicine has provided many options to treat ailments from the common cold all the way up to cancer and heart disease.

One area that many people tend to neglect, however, is their oral health. You might think that daily brushing alone will do the trick, but as we age our bodies change. What worked in your twenties and thirties may not be enough by the time you reach your senior years.

It’s therefore best to understand the types of oral health issues seniors commonly face. You should probably speak to your Birmingham dentist about your own oral health, but here are just a few issues that everyone should be aware of as they get older.

Dry Mouth

Many people mistakenly believe that dry mouth, or a lack of adequate saliva to keep the mouth hydrated, is part and parcel of the aging process, but this is untrue. The reason why seniors often suffer from dry mouth is that it can be a side effect of many medications, including cancer treatments, as well as certain diseases.

The biggest problem with dry mouth, aside from discomfort, is that saliva is needed to rinse food and bacteria from the mouth. When this function is not fulfilled, bacteria can grow, leading to the buildup of tartar and plaque.  It can also cause more serious issues like tooth decay, gum disease, tooth loss, and even abscesses that get into the blood stream and travel to other parts of the body.

In other words, you’ll want to speak to your dentist if you’ve noticed a dryer mouth. It’s possible that medications could be adjusted. If not, your doctor can likely recommend supplemental products to keep your mouth clean, hydrated, and comfortable.

Tooth Decay

All of us have a hard, protective covering on our teeth called enamel. Enamel can be compromised in several ways, such as through chips or cracks caused by grinding (bruxism) or trauma, or by eating sugary, starchy, and acidic foods that attack the enamel and lead to plaque and tartar buildup.

When the enamel is compromised, your teeth are no longer adequately protected from bacteria and other contaminants. This can lead to cavities, tooth rot, and receding gums. Many people mistakenly believe that tooth decay tends to be a problem for children, who may not brush or floss properly.  However, tooth decay can strike at any age.

Gum Disease

Gingivitis and periodontitis are serious oral health issues that arise when bacteria gather below the gum line and infect the surrounding tissue, causing tenderness, swelling, bleeding and gum recession.  In severe cases, infection of the teeth and the jaw bone may occur. The good news is that gum disease is not a foregone conclusion as we age.

The best way to stave off gum disease is with a good oral health regimen that includes regular brushing, flossing, rinsing, and visits to your dentist in Birmingham AL for checkup and cleaning. In most cases, gum disease is entirely preventable, as well as treatable, especially in the early stages.

Oral Cancer

Not everyone will develop oral cancer, but you may have certain risk factors that increase with age. If you have a family history of cancer, then you may be more likely to develop the disease. Smoking or other use of tobacco products puts you at particularly high risk.

However, if oral cancer is identified early, you have a good chance to treat it successfully. Regular dental visits are a must since your dentist will almost certainly conduct cancer screenings (visual inspection) during cleanings.

Reduced Insurance Coverage

One oral health issue that many seniors face revolves around waning insurance coverage. As you move to insurance policies designed for seniors, you may find that your policies no longer include coverage for routine dental care.

This means purchasing supplemental insurance that some seniors simply can’t afford on a reduced fixed income. However, paying out-of-pocket to treat oral health conditions is bound to be a lot pricier, so it’s always best for seniors to continue receiving proper preventive care.