It comes as no surprise that maintaining good dental health and hygiene is important. Our dentition is changing from the moment we are born and continues until we’re gone. It is crucial to practice healthy oral care at any age, but seniors pose an exceptional risk when it comes to the consequences of inadequacies.
They are at an elevated risk because when someone enters their senior years, teeth and gums have sustained a lot of wear and tear. Even if you have kept up a strict oral hygiene regimen, you can still experience severe effects.
In elder populations, proper dental care is more difficult to achieve for a variety of reasons. One of these is because oral-related infections and conditions can directly translate to other medical afflictions. As you age, your risk of developing them increases drastically.
Why Are Seniors at Higher Risk?
On one level, the decline in mental acuity and memory can make it hard to even remember to take care of your dental health, let alone how. Loss of memory can cause elders to be unable to recall whether they have:
- Brushed their teeth
- Visited the dentist
- Cleaned their dentures
Along with this type of forgetfulness comes another obstacle, which is remembering how to properly care for your gums and teeth. Some seniors cannot recall to:
- Floss between every tooth
- Brush their teeth thoroughly two or more times a day
- Clean artificial teeth with the appropriate disinfectants
Another frequent problem is that elders often face physical disabilities that reduce the range of motion. For seniors living in care facilities or long-term care communities, many do not want caregivers brushing their teeth, but certain conditions, especially muscular and joint afflictions of the arms or hands, make it difficult or even painful to brush and floss. Some seniors may require assistance to practice good dental care.
The risk of developing infections, medical conditions, and other health problems increases with age. This means that a tooth infection can cause damage to the rest of the body, as you cannot fight it off once it has taken hold. Your dentition is less resilient and more susceptible to damage, and there are risks posed even for people with dentures.
Lastly, part of the problem is because seniors cannot afford the dental healthcare they need. Medicare unfortunately does not cover dental health.
What Consequences are a Result of Improper Dental Care?
Unfortunately, there is no shortage of conditions that can be instigated by inadequate dental hygiene. There are, however, some that are more prevalent and risky than others.
Tooth Loss and Decay
These two afflictions are extremely common among elder populations. Tooth enamel wears away throughout life, especially if you consume a lot of acidic foods or are slacking on your daily dental routine.
The plaque that forms, as a result, can cause cavities, which can lead to tooth damage. Another risk factor is receding gums (something that occurs with age), which further exposes the teeth to potential damage.
Because of these factors, tooth decay runs rampant among seniors. That decay, when left untreated, can lead to tooth loss—in fact, one in five adults over the age of 65 have lost all of their teeth.
Also known as periodontitis, gum disease can pose a major threat to elders. It is generally caused by excessive plaque buildup, which often occurs from:
- Plaque buildup on or between the teeth
- Usually from lack of brushing and flossing
- Tobacco usage
- Especially chewing tobacco
- Poor diet that includes
- Many acidic or sugary foods/drinks
- Foods that get stuck on or between the teeth and are harder to remove
- Other health conditions, such as
Gum disease is bad enough on its own, but unfortunately, there is often comorbidity.
This is a lung condition caused by a bacterial infection originating from inhaled particles. Since air must bypass the mouth to reach the lungs, extra contaminants caused by poor dental hygiene can find their way into the respiratory system.
From there, a senior’s weakened immune system cannot fight the infection off, and the effects of pneumonia can spread to other parts of the body. Tobacco users are at an even greater risk because of all the toxic chemicals found in cigarette smoke and chewing tobacco. For a young person, this is obviously bad, but for an elderly person, it can be deadly.
The average person does not associate dental care with the heart, but research has proven that there is a definitive link between gum and heart disease. The inflammation of the gums (such as in periodontitis) elevates your risk of:
- Heart attack
- Blood clots
- Cardiovascular infections
For seniors, the bacteria that causes gum disease triggers an immune response that migrates to other parts of the body—in this case, the heart—and spreads like wildfire. An elder’s body cannot handle this massive stress to the different body systems, and this can lead to death in the worst cases.
Practicing good dental and oral health is highly recommended for people of all ages. Neglecting your dental care routine can have fatal consequences for the elderly, so it is of vital importance that they maintain good practices throughout their lives.
You should assure that your loved ones are caring for their teeth and gums by regularly checking up on them—they may need extra assistance, but it is worth it to prevent the myriad of subsequent health problems.