Oral Traditions

We spend a lot of time educating kids about the importance of oral hygiene. Who knew grandparents should be getting the same lecture? Indeed, older Americans make up a growing percentage of the U.S. population; according to the 2000 U.S. Census nearly 35 million are 65 years or older. By 2050, that number is expected to increase to 48 million.

With this growing population of senior citizens comes an expected increase in oral diseases and conditions. One reason is that today’s seniors didn’t benefit from community water fluoridation and other fluoride products. Other factors have to do with aging, natural wear and tear on the teeth, and the result of medications that cause dry mouth and deplete the mouth of saliva, a natural plaque fighter.

For all these reasons, it’s important for seniors to get professional oral health care regularly.

Drink fluoridated water and use toothpaste with fluoride; fluoride provides protection against dental decay at all ages.

Practice good oral hygiene. Careful tooth brushing and flossing to reduce dental plaque can help prevent periodontal disease.

Get professional oral health care, even if you have no natural teeth. Professional care helps to maintain the overall health of the teeth and mouth, and provides for early detection of pre-cancerous or cancerous lesions.

Avoid tobacco. In addition to the general health risks posed by tobacco use, smokers have seven times the risk of developing periodontal disease compared to non-smokers.

Limit alcohol. Excessive alcohol consumption is a risk factor for oral and throat cancers. Alcohol and tobacco used together are the primary risk factors for these cancers.

Make sure that you or your loved one gets dental care prior to undergoing cancer chemotherapy or radiation to the head or neck. These therapies can damage or destroy oral tissues and can result in severe mucosal inflammation and ulcers, loss of salivary function, rampant decay, and destruction of bone.

Caregivers should attend to the daily oral hygiene procedures of elders who are unable to perform these activities independently.

Sudden changes in taste and smell should not be considered signs of aging but should be an alert to seek professional care.

Source: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)