Oral health is a critical factor in your overall health. How your teeth age depends on how well you have cared for them over the years. Many people are aware of making proper lifestyle choices including proper nutrition, regular exercise, and sufficient sleep for their overall physical health. But many people should also be aware that a healthy mouth is the window to a healthy body. The importance of our lifestyle choices including proper oral hygiene becomes even more important as we age. It is essential that older adults focus on the prevention of cavities and gum disease as they continue to age.
According to the Coalition for the Oral Health for the Aging, the importance of proper oral health for the country will become even more important over the next 20 years. The following statistics make clear the importance of oral health for our aging population:
- The proportion of U.S. population over the age of 65 in 2000 was 12%. In 2030 it will be 20%.
- More aging adults are keeping their natural teeth. There has been a decrease of 41% in 1986 to 21% in 2004 of older adults with no natural teeth.
- Older adults with periodontal disease face a 25% higher risk of death from aspiration pneumonia.
- Older adults take numerous medications which adversely affect their oral health. Many medications cause dry mouth which contributes to poor oral hygiene.
- Access to proper oral health care is limited. Only 38% of nursing home residents receive a dental exam.
Proper dental care and the promotion of oral hygiene are critical for the overall health of seniors. Older adults need to continue to brush and floss twice daily whether they have real or replacement teeth. A healthy diet that limits sugars, carbohydrates, and alcohol intake is crucial for proper nutrition and a healthy mouth. Tobacco use is very dangerous and is a major risk factor for oral cancers. Seniors should continue to see their dentist every six months.
Unlike today’s under-50 population, many older adults grew up without fluoride in their water and are therefore more susceptible to tooth decay and gum disease. Gum disease can progress slowly over time and is very common in older adults. Heart disease, respiratory disorders, and strokes are all linked to gum disease. The primary cause of gum disease is plaque and bacterial buildup that comes from food left between teeth, smoking, poorly aligned teeth, dentures, or bridges, and a bad diet. Signs of gum disease include bleeding gums when you brush, tender and swollen gums, persistent bad breath, and any change in your bite.
Knowing the importance of and the connection between oral health and your overall physical health is half the battle. Remain committed to proper oral hygiene and regular dental exams as you age; you and your family will be happier and healthier.