February is Heart Month and we want to know if you added “floss my teeth daily” to your list of New Year’s resolutions. Taking care of our mouths is one of those things that we sometimes don’t get around to. And some older adults think that with age, it is no longer important to go to the dentist. But in truth, the older we get, the more important mouth care can be.
Oral health and overall health are closely related. Poor oral health has a negative impact on social interaction, communication and the general well-being of seniors. The effect on nutrition is the most obvious: people with painful or missing teeth, gum disease or ill-fitting dentures are much less likely to eat a nutritious diet. This makes it hard to maintain a healthy weight and take in the nutrients we need.
Researchers are also pinpointing the ways that poor oral health leads to poor health in general. The effect goes far beyond the gums and teeth:
In November 2013, Columbia University researchers reported that brushing, flossing and regular dental visits slow the progression of atherosclerosis (narrowing of the arteries) to a significant degree. An earlier study from the American Heart Association found that people who have their teeth cleaned regularly have a 24 percent lower risk of heart attack and 13 percent lower risk of stroke. According to nursing professor Rita Jablonski of Pennsylvania State University, “Poor oral health can lead to pneumonia and cardiovascular disease as well as periodontal disease.” Keeping the teeth and gums clean reduces the growth of bacteria that can lead to systemic inflammation.
Tooth loss and gum disease have also been linked to an increased risk of dementia. New York University researchers found that gum disease may contribute to brain inflammation and Alzheimer’s disease.
Study author Dr. Angela Kamer reported, “The research suggests that cognitively normal subjects with periodontal inflammation are at an increased risk of lower cognitive function compared to cognitively normal subjects with little or no periodontal inflammation.” University of Florida researchers also reported that oral bacteria from poor mouth hygiene is linked to brain tissue degeneration that may lead to diseases such as Alzheimer’s.
The challenges seniors face in achieving good oral health
Our teeth and gums change as we grow older.
- Years of wear and tear take a toll, often causing thinning enamel and broken or lost teeth.
- Teeth with repairs such as crowns, fillings and root canals are less hardy.
- As gums recede, sensitive areas of the teeth not covered by enamel are exposed.
- Other factors put teeth and gums at risk including dementia, arthritis, Parkinson’s disease, stroke and other conditions that cause a loss of muscle control can make it hard to brush and floss effectively.
If teeth are lost and not replaced, the bony structures of the mouth may deteriorate. This will cause an increase in other mouth problems. Modern dentures can be quite comfortable and proper denture care is important in order to increase one’s life span by reducing bacteria.
When a frail elderly person is unable to properly clean the mouth and teeth, it’s important that they receive assistance from a family member or home health provider. A non-medical agency like AA Care Services can assist and supervise all personal care to ensure adequate oral care.
One Final Tip: We recommend a battery-operated or electric toothbrush which provides the best oral care to decrease gum inflammation.
Source: Aging in Stride, “More Than Just A Nice Smile”, January 2014
The information in this article is not intended to replace the advice of your doctor. If you have questions about oral health and dental care, consult your dentist or other healthcare provider.
Helen Trowsdale, President of AA Care Services, is a nurse administrator with over 30 years of experience as a BSN, psychiatric nurse, and geriatric care manager with adults as well as pediatrics in hospitals, private duty home health care agencies, and residential home health care. Her team of caregivers are dedicated to serving their clients with home care in San Antonio, New Braunfels, and Austin; providing clients with consistent, quality care while minimizing the number of caregivers in the home. Learn more about AA Care Services.