Submitted by Delta Dental of Washington.
As people age, they often become more focused on healthy lifestyle choices as we all strive for good health in our golden years. But even the most health conscious may be surprised to learn about the strong connection between their oral health and their overall health.
Our bodies are complex systems. Problems in one area often impact problems in other areas. In fact, studies show that gum disease (an infection of the gums caused by chronic plaque buildup on teeth) in particular has been linked to health issues common among seniors – from heart disease to hypertension to erectile dysfunction (ED).
As scientists work to fully understand the connection of gum disease to heart disease, hypertension and ED, current research suggests that chronic inflammation in the mouth associated with periodontal disease may increase the risk for developing a variety of systemic health conditions.
Another oral health concern which increases with age is oral cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, approximately 35,000 cases of mouth, throat and tongue cancer are diagnosed each year – with the average age at diagnosis being 62 years old. Because the early stages of oral cancer are typically painless, dentists are often the first to detect the warning signs which include open sores, white or reddish patches, and changes in the lips, tongue and lining of the mouth.
With careful examination of the teeth, gums and tongue, dentists may also see possible signs of arthritis, diabetes, diet deficiencies, liver disease and even some auto-immune diseases. “A look inside a patient’s mouth can provide great insight to what’s happening throughout their entire body.” said Dr. Goudarzi, a Delta Dental of Washington dental consultant. “It’s important for seniors to continue to place a high priority on their daily oral hygiene routine and regular visits to the dentist.”
Because oral health can impact overall health, Delta Dental offers the following dental health tips for seniors and their caregivers:
- Stick to Basics – Brushing and flossing regularly can prevent or reduce the risk of gum disease. Also as people age, their dexterity is not what it used to be and they may need someone to help them with brushing and flossing.
- Use Fluoride – Choose to hydrate with tap water, rather than bottled water. Why? Most tap water contains fluoride, a mineral that protects against tooth decay. And, for those who live in a rural area that does not have fluoride in its water system, be sure to use fluoridated toothpaste and mouthwash. Your dentist may recommend using a fluoride or antibacterial rinse for seniors who are at high risk for decay and gum disease.
- Avoid Tobacco and Drink Moderately – Smoking and drinking excessive amounts of alcohol is a risk factor for oral and throat cancers.
- Check your Meds – Many prescription and over-the-counter medications can cause dry mouth. A decrease in saliva puts a person at higher risk for tooth decay and other infections in the mouth.
- Visit the Dentist – Preventative treatments such as teeth cleanings, exams and denture refittings, continue to be important, especially as we age. Dentists carefully examine teeth, gums, lips and tongue, and check for signs of other, potentially more serious health problems.
For additional information about senior dental health, including the connection of gum disease with heart disease, erectile dysfunction and other senior-related health issues visit www.deltadentalwa.com/blog.