[This piece was written by Roseanne Henley, Manager of Clinical Care, St. Peter’s Dental Center.]
Dental care and dental hygiene in this country have changed a lot over the years, but most Americans age 60 and over have lost at least some of their natural teeth. And, according to the American Dental Association, more than 25 percent have severe gum disease that can affect overall health, as well as their ability to eat the foods they want.
Caused by bacteria in the plaque that forms on and around the teeth, gum disease is a chronic infection and a major reason for tooth loss as well as other health problems. If left untreated, gum disease can start to break down the gum tissue and the bone supporting the teeth.
As the bone supporting the tooth is destroyed, tooth loss becomes inevitable. In addition, the chronic inflammation caused by gum disease affects the rest of the body. Studies have linked it to heart disease, diabetes and bacterial pneumonia.
Seniors are generally more vulnerable to tooth decay and gum disease, in part because of many commonly used medications that cause dry mouth. This lack of saliva makes the mouth susceptible to infections and decay.
Sipping water throughout the day or sucking on sugarless hard candy may help with dry mouth. Avoid smoking and too much coffee, tea, soda or alcoholic beverages since they tend to dry the mouth even more.
The most important thing you can do is to visit your dental office every six months or so for a teeth cleaning and oral examination. The hygienist can not only spot problems early but can show you the best ways to brush and floss.
If you have a hard time holding a toothbrush because of arthritis, you might want to switch to an electric toothbrush. Or, get creative – attach a bicycle grip to the handle of the brush, or cut a slit in a tennis ball and slip the handle through the slit. Likewise, if flossing is difficult due to arthritic hands, talk to your dental hygienist about flossing utensils that can assist in the process.
Your doctor and your dentist are unlikely to communicate regularly with each other, so be sure to inform both offices about your medications and chronic medical conditions. Your overall health is highly dependent on good oral health.
St. Peter’s Dental Center (1092 Madison Avenue, Albany – 518-525-1757) provides high-quality, cost-effective, comprehensive dental health care to both children (beginning at age five) and adults. An experienced team of professionals work together with patients, families, social service agencies and community groups to offer a broad range of care services to local communities.