Dental Health As We Get Older

. February 3, 2017.

According to former U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, a large percentage of people 65 and older retain their teeth, but approximately 1 in 4 seniors have periodontal disease. Seniors 65 and older are seven times more likely to have oral cancer than younger people. To keep your teeth healthy, it is recommended that you visit your dentist on a regular basis. Based on that guidance, I recently went to my dentist, Dr. William Garber on Talmadge and Laskey, to get my biannual cleaning and checkup. While it’s supposed to be biannual, somehow it seems to stretch out into eight or 10 months between visits, reflecting my less than enthusiastic desire to have a very nice, friendly, charming and professional dental hygienist work on my mouth. Am I the only one with this issue? Obviously I know check-ups and cleaning are very important. We need to take care of our teeth just as we try to take care of the rest of our health. Unfortunately, seniors are less likely to go to the dentist due to a lack of income and dental coverage. Only 45 % of seniors 75 and older report going to the dentist in the past year as compared to 60% of the younger population.

Important Dental Issues

After the cleaning, my dentist and I talked about what he felt were the most important issues for older people’s dental health. Dr. Garber explained that root exposure is very important. As we get older, our gums recede leaving our roots exposed and less protected. Our teeth have enamel to protect them – our roots do not. This situation allows the ravages of bacteria to attack the roots, which are more vulnerable than our enamel covered teeth. Other Strategies to maintain your Dental Health according to the Centers for Disease Control:  Drink fluoridated water and use fluoride toothpaste.  Brush and floss carefully  Do not use tobacco products  Drink moderately since drinking high rates of alcohol, especially when mixed with tobacco, increases the risk for oral and throat cancers  Get dental care before cancer chemotherapy or radiation to the head or neck since these procedures can damage a lot of dental areas.  If you are caregiver work to help elders with oral hygiene. Gums recede due to tobacco use, periodontal disease, overly aggressive tooth brushing and inadequate flossing and brushing. Going to the dentist for scheduled cleanings can help with this issue. Another point of concern for Dr. Garber is that, as we get older, we may be prescribed medications for other ailments that reduce the amount of saliva we produce. Saliva contains substances such as calcium and phosphate that neutralize the acid that is produced by bacteria in our mouth. This acid attacks the teeth and can eventually lead to decay. Some of the drugs that tend to dry the mouth and cut down on the presence of saliva include antihistamines, beta blockers, opioids, insulin and nicotine. If you have a dry mouth, drink lots of water, ask if your drugs can be changed, chew sugarless gum and eat food that requires chewing. As we age we must be mindful of caring for our teeth. After all they they have taken care of us.


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