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Dental Health

Jul 30, 2021

Life expectancy has reached record highs thanks to medical advances, technology and people taking better care of themselves. When we think of and consider steps to take to care of ourselves, it’s easy to think of exercise, eating well, and even meditation and mindfulness these days. But oral health is often overlooked.

The body changes as you age, and those changes affect your dental health. Here are a few dental concerns that you may experience as you age:

  • Cavities. A recent report found that nearly 33% of Americans over the age of 65 had untreated cavities. Such cavities usually cause severe pain, lead to more complicated and expensive therapies, such as root canals, and in the worst case untreated cavities lead to lost teeth. Cavities can come as a result of dry mouth.
  • Dry mouth is more than simply bothersome — it can be harmful to your health. Saliva is necessary for its lubricating ability, digestive enzymes, acid limiters, enamel-fixing compounds and bacteria-fighting agents. In elderly adults, this problem is often caused as a side effect from prescription or over-the-counter drugs. Adding an additional brushing session and/or keeping a glass of water by your bedside can be helpful. There are also over the counter aids such as Biodene that can help.
  • Periodontitis. Now the leading cause of lost teeth in adults, gum disease is a major problem for many elderly people. The cause of gum disease is plaque, the sticky film of dental bacteria that forms on your teeth. Poor dental hygiene, poor-fitting false teeth, or many diseases (such as diabetes or cancer) can hasten gum disease as we get older.
  • Root decay. This is caused by exposure of the tooth root to decay-causing acids. The tooth roots become exposed as gum tissue recedes from the tooth. Roots do not have any enamel to protect them and are more prone to decay than the crown part of the tooth.
  • Denture-induced stomatitis. Ill-fitting dentures, poor dental hygiene, or a buildup of the fungus Candida albicans cause this condition, which is inflammation of the tissue underlying a denture.
  • Oral cancer. A concern at any age, this condition is seven times more likely to develop in adults over the age of 65, and leads to more deaths than skin cancer among older Americans. It is especially prevalent if you have a practice of smoking or using smokeless tobacco.

Diseases and the drugs that treat them can adversely affect a person’s oral health. This often causes other problems to worsen, and may even result in whole-body inflammation, which encourages gum disease and tooth decay.

Another aging complication to good oral hygiene is arthritis. Arthritis in your fingers and hands may discourage you from flossing due to the pain and discomfort, which may lead to dental pain, discomfort and expense. There are, however, flossing tools that you can use to help alleviate the pain of flossing. An example is a Floss Aid Dental Floss Holder which you can find at http://www.arthritissupplies.com/floss-aid.html.

Other helpful hints for dental health include eating a well-balanced diet, plenty of water, and gently brushing your teeth two to three times a day. Finally, you want to make sure you get to a dentist regularly. It is suggested to visit your dentist twice every year for a checkup and professional cleaning.

Although most dental care is not covered by Medicare, you can purchase additional insurance that does cover dental.  For assistance with choosing the best insurance to supplement your Medicare, contact the Massachusetts SHINE program, which provides free, unbiased advice on Medicare options. Learn more about SHINE at www.shinema.org.