What Does Healthy Aging Look like in Terms of Oral Health?
Good oral health care is essential for healthy living. As they age, some adults may be surprised to experience certain dental problems that seem to spontaneously occur. Though these conditions can vary a great deal from person to person, seniors are at higher risk for certain oral health problems. This September, we’re celebrating Healthy Aging Month by discussing the oral conditions that commonly show up in old age, and ways to prevent them. Read on to learn about three oral problems and our best anti-aging tips to avoid them!
Three Tips for a Healthy Aging Mouth
You may wonder why you’re suddenly developing cavities. While it is commonly understood that we are cavity prone during childhood, we are also susceptible to cavities as we age. One prevalent cause is dry mouth, a common side effect of more than 500 medications including those for allergies, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, anxiety and depression. Be sure to tell your dentist about any medications you’re taking. You can also alleviate a dry mouth with these recommendations:
- Use sugar-free gum or lozenges to stimulate saliva production.
- Get a humidifier to keep moisture in the air at home.
- Avoid beverages that intensify dry mouth, such as coffee, alcohol, soft drinks and fruit juices.
- Drink more water! Carry a water bottle with you at all times and keep drinking throughout the day.
- Gum Disease
Older adults are at increased risk for periodontal (gum) disease, a condition in which the bacteria in plaque irritates and inflames the gums. According to the definition given by the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, 17.2% of seniors over age 65 have periodontal disease. One reason why gum disease is so widespread among older adults is that it can develop over many years before becoming painful. If left untreated, the gums begin pulling away from the teeth, forming pockets of space where more food particles and plaque accumulate. When it has reached an advanced stage, periodontitis can eventually destroy the bone and ligaments supporting the teeth, leading to tooth loss. You can prevent gum disease with these tips:
- Visit the dentist each year for your dental cleaning.
- Floss daily for healthy gums. It’s not necessary to press down hard when you floss. The important thing is to remove the sticky, white/yellow substance that forms on the teeth.
- If you suddenly experience gum bleeding despite daily habits of brushing and flossing, you may be experiencing a gum disease flare-up. Schedule an appointment with the dentist to have your gums checked. Especially among seniors with other inflammatory conditions, sudden bleeding gums can be a sign of inflammation in another part of the body. It’s important to address this bleeding sooner rather than later, as it can also put you at greater risk for cancer.
- Oral Cancer
The average age of people diagnosed with oral cancer (which includes mouth, throat, and tongue cancer) is 62. According to the American Cancer Society, approximately 51,500 cases of oral cancer are diagnosed each year and about 10,030 people die of these cancers. Early detection is very important because it is easier to successfully treat cancer before it grows. Men are twice as likely as women to get oral cancer. Most of our prevention tips for oral cancer are long-term strategies, but it’s never too late to start:
- 90% of oral cancers are associated with tobacco use and excessive alcohol consumption. If you or a loved one smoke at all or drink in excess, quitting these habits is the most important preventative step you can take.
- Increase fruit and vegetable consumption. Sixteen studies show that each portion of fruit/vegetables consumed daily significantly reduces the risk of oral cancer.
- Engage in regular aerobic exercise, which has been shown to inhibit cancer growth.
- Request an oral cancer screening when you visit the dentist. This should be a part of every standard checkup.
Celebrate Healthy Aging Month with Beautiful Teeth!
Don’t forget, healthy aging for seniors includes oral health! Poor oral health not only affects how your teeth function, but can leave you more susceptible to heart disease and diabetes. This September, we challenge all our patients to reflect on how well their oral habits are preparing them for healthy aging in the future. No one wants to spend their golden years in and out of the dentist’s office for various oral procedures. With regular dental appointments and daily oral hygiene, you can lower your risk for these conditions. To schedule your next appointment at Penn Dental Medicine, you can reach us at 215-898-8995.
What are you thinking about changing about your dental hygiene this Healthy Aging Month? Share your thoughts with our dentists when you come in for your next appointment!