Keeping a bright smile for a long time, or how taking care of your oral health helps you age well
It’s a fact: we’re living longer and longer. Medicine has come a long way, and we’re managing to stay healthy for much longer than ever before. However, there is one area that is still somewhat on the bangs, particularly among the elderly: oral and dental health. oral and dental health .
While it’s logical to want to keep a dazzling smile for as long as possible, it’s all too easy to forget just how much of an impact oral problems can have on overall health.
So what are the specific problems faced by older people who are concerned about the health of their teeth, and how can they be prevented?
As we age, we often develop varying degrees of tooth sensitivity. Sometimes it’s hot or cold food that triggers pain (temperature sensitivity), sometimes it’s just contact (touch sensitivity). This may be a sign of decay.
Saliva production also declines with age. Saliva has a bactericidal action (it destroys bacteria). When we produce less saliva, we increase the risk of dental and gum disease.
Another problem that comes with time is tooth loosening. The roots of the teeth become visible, increasing the risk of oral infection and decay.
Finally, teeth change their appearance. They will darken and yellow. This change may be natural, but will be accentuated by smoking, or the ingestion of certain foods or beverages (tea, coffee…). Plaque formation is more rapid in older people.
Oral health is important in the prevention of other health problems
Poor oral health is a risk factor, leading to numerous complications.
The risk of pneumopathy(respiratory infections) will increase as quickly as oral health declines. When we lose teeth, chewing is less efficient, which increases the risk of a false start, and thus of inhalation pneumonitis (when food passes through the respiratory tract and infects the lung parenchyma). In addition, dental or gum disease can lead to a proliferation of germs in the mouth, which can infect the lungs.
Diabetics, too, are at greater risk of infection than others. Mouth infections are no exception, especially periodontitis(gum infections that can also affect the jawbone). These will lead to chewing pain and tooth loss. What’s more, in diabetics, infections (including oral ones) unbalance and aggravate diabetes. This vicious circle further increases the risk of infection.
Dental infections and gum disease are cardiovascular risk factors. An infection in the mouth is a “gateway” to endocarditis (infection of heart tissue, often serious), and increases the risk of myocardial infarction (MI) and stroke.
In the event of a wound or injury in the mouth, Streptococcus Mutans present in the saliva can pass into the bloodstream, weakening blood vessels (stroke).
Dry mouth, on the other hand, increases the risk of infection and other oral problems. This inconvenience, due to a lack of saliva, can be caused by various factors:
- certain medications
- alcohol consumption
- dehydration in the elderly, who are less thirsty
What are the means of prevention?
To deal with these many risks, prevention is fairly straightforward.
Brushing twice a day and flossing are recommended. Brushing should not be too vigorous.
Electric toothbrushes, which are easier to use for elderly people with dexterity problems, can help remove plaque.
Toothbrush handles can also be modified (lengthened, widened for easier gripping…).
Professionals recommend using fluoride toothpaste to protect tooth enamel.
Regular check-ups are essential. You should see your dentist twice a year, or if you notice pain or other problems.
They also recommend maintenance of dentures and implants to avoid inflammation of the gums (due to fit problems).
Finally, maintaining a good level of hydration helps combat dry mouth.
When to worry
Healthy gums are pink, firm and painless. If they become red, blotchy, painful and bleeding, this may be a sign of gum disease (gingivitis, periodontitis), which can weaken jawbone and tooth stability.
Healthy teeth are clean, cavity-free, intact and pain-free. On the other hand, if they become loose, chipped or painful, this can be a warning sign.
The tongue should be pink, smooth, moist and painless. Also, you should ask yourself if its texture is irregular, red, stained or bumpy.
As for prostheses, they must remain comfortable, allowing normal speech, chewing and smiling. If they don’t fit properly, or are painful or injurious, or interfere with speech, it’s best to have them refitted.
We remind you that the purpose of this article is to inform any senior with dental health concerns. This is by no means a professional opinion. When in doubt, it’s best to consult a professional specialized in oral health.