Common Elderly Dental Issues

Sep 25, 2017

Common Elderly Dental Issues

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Why does aging increase one’s susceptibility to dental diseases? Everyone is at risk for dental problems, but the probability of contracting an oral disease increases with age. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), periodontal disease and tooth decay are two of the most common elderly dental issues. The high probability of elders obtaining oral diseases is due to a variety of factors such as the effects of medications, changes in the chemistry of a person’s mouth as a result of aging, proneness to diseases, in addition to a general practice of poor oral hygiene. A healthy oral hygiene routine is crucial for decreasing the risk of contracting diseases, especially in elders who are at a higher risk. As a matter of fact, dental issues can cause further health issues such as infections and cardiovascular ailments, as well as potential dementia.

What are Some Common Elderly Dental Issues?

  1. Xerostomia (Dry Mouth): According to the American Dental Association, 30% of elders age 65+ and 40% of elders age 80+ are affected by xerostomia. Xerostomia, also known as dry mouth, is one of the common elderly dental issues that plagues elders. It is an effect of medications, which changes the chemistry of one’s mouth, causing a reduction in saliva production. Although it is not a disease, xerostomia can cause damage to one’s teeth by causing tooth decay.
  2. Root Caries (Tooth Decay): Root caries are one of the most common elderly dental issues that are caused by acids that decay one’s teeth, due to exposure of the root. These acids could derive from various types of food as well as poor oral hygiene.
  3. Periodontitis (Gum Disease): As reported by the Academy of General Dentistry, 25% of adults age 65-74 are affected by severe gum disease. Periodontitis is caused by a bacterial infection from plaque that causes your gums to recede, causing weak bone support and eventual tooth loss.
  4. Thrush: Thrush is an oral infection common in elders that are caused by a type of fungus called Candida Albicans. This infection is caused by dry mouth, smoking, dentures, and the ingestion of certain medications.
  5. Stomatitis: Stomatitis is an inflammation of the tissue caused from the improper fit of dentures. Thrush can also cause stomatitis in elders.
  6. Uneven Jaw: A missing tooth, mainly caused by tooth decay, can cause the formation of teeth to shift, causing an uneven jaw. This makes chewing difficult, causing additional health issues as a result.
  7. Diminished Sense of Taste: A common side effect of old age is a diminished sense of taste. However, loss of a sense of taste can also be the result of diseases or medications.
  8. Mouth Cancer: According to the American Dental Association, 62 is the average age for those diagnosed with oral cancer. In fact, the American Cancer Society reported that about 35,000 cases have been diagnosed each year. Symptoms of oral cancer consist of white or red patches in the mouth, changing in the lining of the mouth, in addition to the appearance of sores.

How Can Elders Establish Good Oral Hygiene?

In order to establish good oral hygiene, it is important that you institute a routine of brushing twice a day with fluoride toothpaste while also flossing at least once a day to prevent any residue plaque from appearing. In addition, utilizing antibacterial mouthwash will also help decrease the chance of contracting any of these common dental issues. Aside from this, it is vital that dentures are cleaned every day to prevent the risk of contracting any bacterial infection. Similarly, dentures should not be worn at all times – it is important that one’s gums are given relief from dentures in order to prevent thrush or irritation. Just as it is important for anyone in any age group, it is essential that a healthy diet is implemented into an elder’s lifestyle. This means that tobacco and cigarettes should not be used, as they are main causes of dental diseases, especially oral cancer. This consists of being aware of what foods elders eat, and paying attention to their sugar intake. A good method to prevent these common elder dental issues is to stay hydrated. By increasing their water intake, elders can minimize their risk of contracting bacterial infections. Finally, make sure that elders are regularly attending their dental visits to update their dentists of any changes or problems that they may be having. After all, prevention is key. 

How Can Caregivers Help Elders Maintain Oral Hygiene?

Establishing a routine for good hygiene is imperative for preventing these common dental issues. However, oftentimes caregivers need to take the initiative to help elders institute these habits. Having said that, caregivers can help elders by reminding them to brush their teeth and floss daily while also aiding them in doing so if they encounter problems. Similarly, caregivers can remind and assist elders to their annual dentist visits. As a caregiver, one of their responsibilities is to educate elders on how they can adjust their lifestyle. Caregivers can do this by teaching elders about healthy eating habits and oral hygiene, as well as proper denture care to help ensure good oral hygiene for elders.

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