As residents of Mount Vernon and elsewhere begin to age, it becomes more and more important to focus on their physical health, whether or not they move into palliative care.
However, not everyone knows that there’s another component to consider to make sure they have a good quality of life: their dental care.
The staff at Above and Beyond Home Health Care and Hospice make sure to emphasize that there are plenty of connections to be made between their dental health and their overall health. This is a fairly new concept, especially when traditional medicine – and even traditional insurance – has taught us that dental care and overall body care should be kept separate.
But research has shown that the condition of your mouth can affect your body, and vice versa. In situations where bacteria from injured teeth or gums get into your bloodstream, it could lead to larger infections through the whole body. Something like a toothache or jaw problem can cause pain and inflammation in the body as well.
That’s why regular dental care visits are vital, especially among seniors.
Not only are seniors more likely to have dental problems related to aging, but they are also at higher risk for developing dangerous infections. Another complication is how few seniors have separate dental insurance. While the Medicare program offers an array of medication and prescription options, it typically doesn’t cover any costs related to dental health needs.
Dental health conditions
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently listed five of the more common dental health conditions that can affect seniors. These include:
- Gum disease, which affects about 68 percent of adults age 65 and older.
- Untreated tooth decay, which is the more common condition. About 1 in 5 people age 65 and older are affected by this, and 96 percent have had a cavity in the past.
- Lost teeth. Full tooth loss is double the amount of those ages 75 and older (26 percent) compared to those between age 65 and 74. Nearly 1 in 5 adults have lost all of their teeth. Teeth can be lost due to trauma or poor nutrition.
- Chronic disease. Some health conditions and prescriptions may affect the mouth, such as causing dry mouth or lowering the amount of saliva.
- Oral cancer. Though cancer can affect people at any age, there are some cancers of the mouth that become more common as people age.
Dentures or not dentures
It is a common stereotype that “everyone” loses their teeth over time while they age and then are required to wear dentures.
Granted, dentures can be seen as a better option than either continuing to have dangerously decaying teeth or no teeth at all, but the better option should be to look for ways to keep your “real” teeth safely as long as possible.
Because of the possible cost and general inconvenience of dentures, some people are hesitant to get them. Some may try to see how long they go without anything, which could certainly affect their quality of life.
Rather than a full meal of different types of food, their diet will likely have to the softest foods possible. Although dentures do require changing what and how you eat and switching to softer, often processed marks, going without anything would be especially difficult.
Harvard Health Publishing, part of Harvard Medical School, suggests taking as many steps as you can to avoid conversations about your natural teeth needing to be removed.
Some of the big ones are to offer continuous regular care of your teeth and gums through adequate brushing, flossing, and rinsing on a daily basis.
Paying attention to what you eat is also vital, such as avoiding items that can affect the overall enamel of the teeth surface such as lemon juice, carbonated drinks, and generally acidic material found in citrus. Reduced enamel over time can strip away important barriers and make your teeth and gums more prone to infection.
When brushing, special attention should always be given to what’s called the gum line. This is the area near the bottom of the tooth where the gum and tooth come together. It’s also where greater amounts of bacteria can be found and an area that’s difficult for some people to reach with their toothbrushes of floss.
Dental experts also suggest using electric toothbrushes, which can break up plaque better than an analog toothbrush.
Though “general dental pain” is what defines a toothache, why it happens can vary. But whatever the reason, it’s a situation that many people want to avoid. This type of constant pain can be overwhelming, affecting your daily life and even your mealtimes and your sleep, adding fatigue to what you’re already feeling.
If you are having a toothache or know someone who claims to have one, consider seeking help as soon as possible rather than trying to grin and bear it or “walk it off.”
National Toothache Day is celebrated on Feb. 9 this year. It’s an annual occasion to learn more about this type of pain and what can be done about it.