When my grandma was younger than I am right now she shocked me by pulling her teeth out of her mouth. It was the first time I was aware of dentures. Some dentist had convinced her that her teeth were so bad that he needed to pull them. She spent more than half her life, clicking and clacking through every meal because her dentures were so badly fitted that they slipped when she talked or ate. In the decades since my grandmother’s decision, many seniors have quit thinking of dentures as some sort of rite of passage. The result is that about 75 percent of people over the age of 65 have some or all of their teeth.
Unhealthy bacteria can not only harm your teeth and gums but may be associated with serious medical conditions. While mouth cancer isn’t diagnosed nearly as often as many other cancers (it affects about 35,000 people each year), the beginning stages typically do not cause pain and often go unrecognized. A dental visit can detect the disease. A recent article in the Journal of Dental Research found that people 85 and over, living in a communal living situation, were at a higher risk of developing pneumonia if they slept with their dentures in since bacteria could be inhaled into the lungs.
Another thing common to older adults is their medications. The medications you take can affect your oral health. One example of how medications can hurt your teeth is the dry mouth associated with over 500 medications including those for allergies, asthma, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, pain anxiety or depression. Make sure you keep your dentists updated on your medications.
Arthritis can also make brushing and flossing difficult but electric tooth brushes can help take some of the pain out of it. If that isn’t enough care, talk to your dentist about steps you can take to keep your mouth healthy.
Since dental care is not covered by Medicare, it’s important for seniors to maintain a healthy mouth in order to avoid making a decision between eating and maintaining your teeth. If you think of your mouth as the means to accessing the nutritious food and drink needed to maintain your health (and your looks), plan for your future dental needs in advance. Some organizations offer supplemental dental insurance plans.
To find out more about dental care and seniors, please read this article.