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Dental health is important at any age, including a person’s senior years. Older adults experience many of the same dental health issues as younger people, including tooth decay and gum disease, but they also have other tooth and gum problems. Because they have additional dental needs, seniors require the care of an experienced dental team.

Many of the dental health problems older adults can face are the cumulative result of tooth and gum problems that started years ago. For example, untreated gum disease can turn into periodontal disease, which is a serious type of gum infection that can damage the gums and even destroy the jawbone. Periodontal disease can lead to tooth loss and other oral health issues that can affect someone into his or her senior years.

Age does not directly affect dental health, but some age-related conditions can indirectly increase the risk of dental problems in older adults. Arthritis of the hands can make tooth brushing and flossing difficult, for example. Certain medications can cause dehydration, reduced saliva production, and dry mouth. Since saliva helps wash away food debris and reduce plaque, having dry mouth can lead to gum disease and severe tooth decay if left untreated.

In addition to what we’ve covered so far, let’s now review the five reasons dental health is important for older adults.

1. Older adults are vulnerable to tooth decay and gum disease

About one in five older adults have untreated tooth decay, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and about two in three have gum disease. But, regular exams and prompt treatment of gum disease and tooth decay can prevent tooth loss and other health issues. That’s why periodontal appointments for seniors are important. These appointments include cleaning and treatment, which remove the plaque and tartar that cause gum disease before it results in the loss of one or more teeth.

2. Gum disease may increase the risk of heart disease

There is a strong connection between gum disease and heart disease, according to the American Academy of Periodontology. Scientists have not yet established how gum disease and heart disease are related, but they believe that inflammation associated with gum disease may play a role.

3. Tooth loss can negatively affect health and well-being

Tooth loss can have a profound effect on someone’s health and nutritional status. Those who are missing teeth or who wear dentures will typically prefer food that is soft and easy to chew over food that is crunchy or chewy. This means older adults with missing teeth or dentures may avoid fresh fruits and vegetables, which are high in nutrition and dietary fiber. That can lead to a compromised nutritional status.

Dental health care for seniors includes creating well-fitting bridges and dentures to replace missing teeth, allowing them the freedom to eat the foods they need for proper nutrition.

4. Older adults are at higher risk for oral cancer

Oral cancers are most common in seniors, according to the CDC, and are particularly common in people over the age of 55 who are heavy drinkers and those who smoke.

Oral cancer screenings for seniors can help identify potential problems early when oral cancer is most responsive to treatment.

5. Seniors may develop dry mouth, which can negatively affect dental health

Someone who has dry mouth may have trouble speaking, as well as tasting, chewing and swallowing food. Dry mouth can also increase the risk of tooth decay, tooth sensitivity, loss of the minerals that keep teeth strong, and oral infections.

Dentists can diagnose dry mouth and help identify its causes. Treatment for dry mouth depends largely on its causes but can include changes to medications or doses, and rinsing the mouth often with water or special mouthwashes.

For more information about the importance of dental health for seniors, contact First-in-Smiles. Our Matthews, NC, dentist provides comprehensive and preventative dental care and customized treatments for patients of all ages, from children up to seniors.