Senior Smiles and Health
Written by: Dr. Lillian Mitchell, UAB School of Dentistry
If eyes are the windows to the soul, then what is a smile? A smile often tells a person’s mood or how they are feeling. A healthy smile also gives clues to overall health. As we age, it is important to maintain oral health so that we can communicate with our friends and loved ones and continue to eat well. Good oral health prevents disease and contributes to a healthy, positive quality of life.
Links between oral health and general health are well established. Oral hygiene can no longer be considered “grooming” – it is Infection Control! Gum disease in your mouth is equivalent to an open wound the size of the palm of your hand! Periodontal disease (gum) disease is known to increase a person’s risk for cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease, diabetes and stroke. The bacteria related to gum disease is found in coronary artery plaques, lung fluids and in joints of people with rheumatoid arthritis. These same “bugs” are found on the surfaces of dentures too. Our population is living longer and as the baby boomers age, they are doing so with more teeth. These teeth make them prone to gum disease and tooth decay, all preventable!
Adults today are living with chronic medical issues and the medications prescribed don’t help the mouth. Common medications- antihistamines, diuretics, painkillers, high blood pressure medications, anti-depressants- cause side effects like dry mouth and taste changes. Dry mouth leaves the mouth without enough saliva to wash away food and neutralize plaque, increasing risks for tooth decay and periodontal disease.
So the adage to brush your teeth every day is important! The best times to brush are after breakfast and before bedtime with fluoride toothpaste to help prevent tooth decay. Removing debris from the teeth by brushing and flossing cuts down on gum inflammation and tooth decay. Dry mouth may require some special rinses or moisturizing gels purchased over the counter to help with the symptoms.
While daily oral hygiene is very important, it is also important to have an examination and cleaning by a dentist twice a year, even if you wear dentures! They examine the soft tissues in the mouth, perform an oral cancer screening, look for cavities and evaluate the gum tissues for periodontal disease. A dentist will recommend the best home care to maintain the health of the mouth to keep those healthy senior smiles!