Problems Specific to Seniors
Cavities and decay – Due to the poor diet and lack of fluoride, when many of today's seniors were growing up, they had a higher tendency to develop decay at a younger age, and consequently had more fillings than many of today's younger population. Today, many of these fillings, if not looked after with proper oral hygiene at home, can develop re-decay around their margins. Another factor that leads to an increased incidence of decay in seniors is due to gum recession. Over time, if one is not careful in maintaining good oral hygiene, our gums can significantly recede. As the gums recede, the roots are more exposed and therefore susceptible to decay.
Gum disease – Gum disease (gingivitis and periodontitis) is caused by the bacteria found in plaque. The evidence suggests that older patients develop plaque more quickly, but that the majority can prevent and maintain oral health by focusing on good home care and regular preventive care during a dental hygiene visits.
Oral cancer – The incidence of oral cancer is higher among seniors. Regular dental visits can help to spot early signs of oral cancer and pre-cancerous conditions.
Dry mouth (xerostomia) – Older adults are susceptible to dry mouth which forms a specific environment for bacterial growth. Dryness of the oral cavity can result from a number of factors. Medications can influence the secretion of saliva from the salivary glands. The lack of normal saliva production leads to a very dry environment in the mouth. This dry environment results in an imbalance in the normal bacteria in the mouth and can lead to an overgrowth of pathogenic microorganisms. That result in increased dental decay and soft tissue infections of the mouth. Without saliva, your body losses one of its natural defenses to cleanse the mouth of harmful cavity causing bacteria.
To help combat a dry mouth, avoid caffeine and tobacco. Make sure you drink plenty of water and avoid refined sugar. Ask your dental hygienist which line of preventive dental hygiene products is the best to conquer your dry mouth.
Medications – Many Seniors are prescribed medications that contain sugar and can cause dry mouth, both factors that can influence oral disease. Common causes of dry mouth include certain prescription medications (eg. antidepressants, antihistamines, pain medications, etc.), anxiety, certain cancer therapies that might involve irradiation of the head and neck, chemotherapy, Sjogren Syndrome, HIV/AIDS, diabetes, Parkinson's disease, and certain foods and tobacco. It's important to tell your dental team about any medications you are taking and other possible symptoms, such as abnormal bleeding, taste alterations and soft-tissue symptoms like swelling and discolouration.
Diet – Unfortunately, many seniors may begin to experience mouth or teeth problems that make them less likely to consume a healthy diet which further leads to a negative impact on oral health. Some of the reasons for this include a decrease in appetite, physical disabilities, dementia, Alzheimer's, or untreated tooth decay.
Health conditions – While diseases of the mouth and surrounding areas are a serious health risk, their relationship to overall general health is often not considered important or is simply overlooked. Please look at your loved ones holistically to see those connections.
Sensitive Teeth – A great number of people complain of tooth sensitivity, but more so amongst the senior population. The sensitivity is usually the result of a lifetime of wear and tear of the teeth and gums, caused by factors such as brushing too aggressively, lack of oral hygiene leading to receded gums and overall gum disease, broken and fractured teeth, bruxism (grinding of teeth), acidic foods and complications resulting from certain dental treatments. The triggers for tooth sensitivity can be anything from thermal stimulation (hot or cold foods or drink), sugary or acidic foods, even just breathing in cold air or touch (brushing).
Dentures– Many seniors who have lost some or all of their teeth are wearing removable dentures to replace those missing teeth. The proper care and maintenance of these partial or complete dentures is paramount to maintaining the health of the mouth. Poorly fitting dentures, and those that are not removed regularly to allow oral tissues and existing teeth to be adequately cleaned, can lead to further dental and oral tissue problems. Seniors that wear dentures are advised to continue regular dental visits to ensure proper fit and function of their dental prosthesis.