As your dentist in uptown OKC, our team at Shepherd Mall Family Dentistry understands the impact poor oral health can have on our patients’ overall health, especially for seniors. Millions of adults in the U.S. live with untreated tooth decay, oral pain, gum disease, and tooth loss due to insufficient or non-existing dental care.
A number of recent studies have found that oral health issues may even be linked to a number of serious long-term health issues, including pneumonia, dementia, diabetes, stroke, and heart disease. In addition to taking a physical toll, poor oral health can also have a negative impact on a patient’s self-esteem and self-worth. This can lead many senior patients to increased social isolation, which has negative health implications of its own.
No Access to Dental Care
Many seniors find that with retirement comes a loss of dental care. The majority don’t have dental insurance as Medicare, the nation’s largest health provider for Americans over the age of 65, does not include dental benefits, and high out-of-pocket costs make visiting a dentist in uptown OKC prohibitive.
A recent analysis of Medicare data from 2012 by Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that only 12 percent of seniors over the age of 65 have some form of dental insurance and less than half have visited a dentist in the previous year. Dental visits become even less frequent when looking at seniors in low-income and minority communities.
The lack of available dental care makes seniors especially susceptible to oral health issues. Seniors who don’t enjoy a healthy mouth are more than likely also suffering from additional health issues directly related to their poor oral health. Seniors actually experience tooth decay at higher rates when compared to kids and young adults, and tend to suffer from chronic conditions that could be related to the state of their oral health.
5 Signs of Trouble
While oral health problems can manifest in a number of ways, here are five common issues that seniors shouldn’t ignore.
Dry Mouth. Despite the common misconception, dry mouth isn’t a natural part of growing older. The condition, however, could be a side effect of more than 400 types of medication commonly taken by seniors for conditions that include depression, anxiety, high cholesterol, pain, and hypertension.
If you constantly feel thirsty, consult with your doctor to see if your dry mouth is connected to one of the medications you’re taking. If so, your doctor may be able to change the dosage or provide an alternative medication without this side effect. Over-the-counter mouthwashes, rinses, and sprays, along with drinking more water, can also help alleviate the condition by stimulating saliva production.
Oral Discomfort. Untreated oral disease can cause discomfort and make it difficult to eat, chew, and swallow. Problems eating can lead to seniors suffering from poor nutrition. Seniors may start to avoid eating certain types of foods, like healthy vegetables and fruits, and fish and chicken. It’s not uncommon for seniors to replace these healthy foods by eating softer foods like rice and pasta, or cut back on how much they eat in general.
A poor diet can contribute to an increase of cavities and gum disease. If you’re a caregiver and notice that a loved one is have difficulty eating, it may not just be their appetite, it may be his or her teeth. Encourage your loved one to seek treatment and find out what options may be available to help correct any eating issue.
Avoiding Social Interaction. Missing teeth or suffering from oral pain can lead to embarrassment and social isolation. Research has found that older adults who describe themselves as lonely have a 59 percent great risk of suffering from a functional decline and a 45 percent greater risk of death.
If you or a loved one are shying away from normal social interactions due to your teeth, talk to your dentist in uptown OKC about your options. Having a conversation, laughing, and smiling are a lot easier when your mouth is healthy. If you have oral health problems, know that you’re not alone.
Loose Teeth or Bleeding Gums. Unhealthy teeth and gums have been linked with a variety of chronic long-term health conditions. The current condition of your teeth may actually be a sign that you suffer from one of these conditions or could make them worse.
Gum disease, for example, could be a sign of diabetes. At the same time, research has found that treating gum disease can help balance blood sugar levels in diabetics and may slow the progression of the disease.
Oral Sores. The American Cancer Society estimates that over 48,000 Americans will receive an oral or throat cancer diagnosis in 2017. The average age of those diagnosed will be 62.
Symptoms of oral cancer include sores in the mouth or throat that do not heal, white or red patches that are painful to the touch, and numbness or tenderness in the lips or mouth. At regular checkups, our team at Shepherd Mall Family Dentistry will always perform an oral cancer screening to ensure our patients remain in good health.
Your oral health does not stay separate from your overall health. Maintaining a quality daily oral hygiene routine, along with receiving regular dental care from your dentist in uptown OKC, is the key to staying healthy now and into the future. In you need additional resources for available senior dental care options for a loved one, visit the Area Agencies on Aging (AAA) locators.