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Why Oral Health Matters for Seniors

Taking care of your teeth is important at any age. Brushing, flossing and seeing your dentist regularly are tasks we have to perform throughout our lives. This daily ritual is still important no matter how old we get. For older Americans, continuing to care for their mouths, teeth and gums can have a significant effect on their overall health.

A healthy mouth signals the status of health throughout your body. Subpar dental care can increase the risk of heart disease, stroke and many other health conditions. Our mouths are full of bacteria, that when kept in the right balance keep our mouths and bodies humming along smoothly. But there are real medical concerns that can develop when we don't properly care for our mouths, teeth and gums.

Here are a few of the health concerns that can occur when that bacteria balance is out of whack.

Gum disease: Also known as periodontal disease, this is an infection caused by bacteria living in your mouth. It can make a senior twice as likely to suffer from heart disease as a person with healthy gums. Gum disease is also the first step in the progression of other medical problems.

Dry mouth: While it seems like just an annoyance, dry mouth caused by a reduction in saliva production can also contribute to gum disease. Many over-the-counter and prescription medicines can cause dry mouth. Medications used to treat thing like allergies or high blood pressure can have drying effects. More serious illnesses like Parkinson's and treatments like radiation or chemotherapy can also lead to a reduction in saliva production that can lead to gum disease. Having enough saliva is crucial to help wash away and bacteria in the mouth, as well as neutralize acids that can cause tooth decay.

Stroke: Periodontal disease also increases the risk for stroke since the harmful bacteria in your mouth can make seniors more susceptible to blood clots that can increase the chance of a stroke.

Diabetes: If you have diabetes and have trouble controlling your blood sugar, your teeth and gums will be adversely affected by an increase in plaque bacteria. Diabetes makes it more difficult for our bodies to fight off infections, and that includes the bacteria that cause gum disease. Because of this, people with diabetes are three to four times more likely to get a gum infection. In turn, gum disease makes it tougher to control diabetes.

Dementia: Studies have shown that seniors who suffer from dementia have a large amount of the same bacteria that causes gingivitis. Inflammation in the mouth and gums can have an impact on the brain, and for people who already have dementia, the presence of too much bacteria can make it worse. Researchers admit that more studies need to be done to more fully understand this connection.

Respiratory Diseases: The inflammation caused by periodontal disease is linked to multiple respiratory conditions, such as pneumonia, COPD and bronchitis. It happens when bacteria are drawn down into the respiratory tract and then begins to colonize in the lungs. For seniors who already have weakened immune systems, this can be a devastating development.

Nutritional Imbalances: The loss of teeth or painful gums due to inflammation can severely impact a person's overall nutrition. Consuming food can be difficult or painful and that leaves many seniors skipping the nutrient-dense foods they need to stay healthy. Seniors who have lost teeth or wear dentures, eating soft foods that are easily chewed is preferred. Without proper nutrition, our immune system suffers and we are more susceptible to illnesses. This extends to your mouth, also, and the ability of your mouth, teeth and gums to stay healthy.

A regimen of brushing your teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste and flossing every day can help keep gum disease at bay. Regular dental check-ups are also vitally important and not something that should be skipped as we age.

Losing your teeth and wearing dentures is not a side effect of aging, and not something seniors should expect. Healthy hygiene habits, regular dental appointments and a strong diet will all contribute to a happy, healthy mouth.

Ask the nursing staff at your Evergreen community about what services are available to your or your loved one. Learn more about services and opportunities by visiting our website.

5 Ways to Love Your Senior
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Friday, 22 February 2019

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