Senior's Oral Health

Most seniors have lived long enough to demonstrate that we know something about maintaining our good health.  We know this to be true simply because we have become seniors.  Generally speaking, stupid people don’t have what it takes to become a senior.  OK, there are some exceptions to that rule of thumb!

Knowing that you demand the most current and accurate information possible, I have gathered the information for this article from the Mayo Clinic.

Our oral health is a window to our overall health.  Often our oral health gives clues to the condition of our bodies and can affect the rest of our bodies.  Our bodies are filled with bacteria, most of them good, but not all.  Our mouths are the entry point to our digestive and respiratory systems and some bacteria are disease causing.

Normally, our body’s natural defenses and our good oral hygiene, such as daily brushing and flossing, keep bacteria under control and we remain healthy.  But without good oral hygiene, bacteria can reach levels that can lead to oral infections like tooth decay and gum disease

Additionally, there are some medications, such as decongestants, antihistamines, painkillers, diuretics and antidepressants, that can reduce the flow of saliva.  Saliva benefits us by washing food and neutralizes acids produced by bacteria in the mouth.  This helps protect us from microbes that multiply and lead to gum disease (periodontitis).

Some diseases, such as diabetes and HIV/AIDS, can lower our body’s resistance to infection, which makes oral health issues more severe.

Oral Diseases

Various diseases and conditions that may be related to our oral health include:

Endocarditis.  An infection of our inner heart chambers or valves (endocardium) typically happens when bacteria or germs from another part of the body, such as our mouth, are transported via our bloodstream and attach themselves to certain areas of our heart. 

Cardiovascular disease.  Some research suggests heart disease, clogged arteries and strokes can be linked to the inflammation and infections that can be caused by oral bacteria.

Pneumonia.  Certain bacteria in our mouths can be pulled into our lungs and cause pneumonia and other respiratory diseases.

Conversely, some diseases which originated in other parts of the body may negatively impact our oral health, such as:

  • Diabetes.  When our body’s resistance to infection is reduced, diabetes puts our gums at risk.  Gum disease seems to be more severe and frequent among people who have diabetes.  

Research indicates that people with gum disease find it more difficult to control their blood sugar levels.  Regular periodontal care can improve the control of diabetes.

  • HIV/AIDS.  Oral problems, like painful mucosal lesions, are common with people with HIV/AIDS.
  • Osteoporosis.  A bone-weakening disease that is linked to periodontal bone loss and tooth loss.  Some drugs used to treat osteoporosis bring a small risk of damage to the bones of the jaw.
  • Alzheimer’s disease.  As the disease progresses, worsening oral health also progresses.

About Fluoride

Now that we have considered some results of poor oral health, let’s take a look at things we can do to protect our strong oral health.  First, a word about fluoride.  Fluoride is a trace element found in fluorine and is very common in the earth’s crust.  The amount of fluoride found in fluoridated water is considered safe and beneficial for the oral health of the general public. 

Adding a small amount of fluoride to drinking water is considered safe and also beneficial to the dental health of the general public.  Fluoride strengthens tooth enamel and helps to prevent cavities, decay, and other conditions that lead to tooth loss.

About ⅔ of the water in the US is fluoridated, which has helped decrease the cavities in underprivileged populations that do not receive regular dental care.

Some people feel fluoridated water should not be forced on the population.  Others feel fluoridation is a superfluous issue because most toothpaste has a sufficient amount of fluoride in them.  Fluoride can also stain the teeth, giving them a brown color.

Overall, it is generally understood that the benefits of fluoridation largely outweigh the possible negative effects.  It has helped millions of lower-income children maintain better oral health and has reduced the number of preventable cavities

How to Protect Our Oral Health

We’ve seen some compelling reasons to protect our oral health, so let’s consider more specific ways to protect our oral health.  To do that we need to practice caring for our teeth and gums by:

  • Brushing our teeth every day using a soft-bristled brush and fluoride toothpaste.  I use an electric toothbrush because, for me, it’s faster and I think it does a better job.
  • Floss every day.  I’m too lazy and impatient to floss.
  • After brushing and flossing, use a mouthwash to remove all food particles.
  • Eat a healthy diet and limit our sugar intake.
  • Schedule regular dental checkups and cleanings
  • Avoid tobacco use.  Alcohol is no friend to our teeth either.
  • If we note any problems with our teeth or gums, contact our dentist right away.

We know some people inherit better teeth and gums than other people.  If you are one of those people, be grateful.  If you are not so lucky, it’s important that you more carefully follow the above suggestions.

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