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Oral Health and Seniors: Part I

Taking care of our teeth is vital at every age.  Still, as we become older, oral concerns tend to increase.Seniors smiling

Why?  Well, because senior teeth have been around longer, so there’s a greater opportunity for wear.  In addition, the glands that regulate saliva sometimes become compromised.  Here are a few of the more recognized problems that can occur in the oral area.

  • Dry mouth.  Saliva (also known less eloquently as “spit”) is a washing mechanism in the mouth.  When salivary glands decrease in efficiency, the mouth may become dry.  Dry mouth can also occur because of other reasons such as side effects to a medication.  Unfortunately, when saliva is reduced, additional oral problems like tooth decay and swallowing difficulties could follow.  What can you do to help combat this type of difficulty?   First, tell your doctor or dentist as soon as you suspect a problem so a proper assessment can be made.  Concurrently, be sure to hydrate the mouth regularly by drinking water.  In addition, consider carrying sugar-free candy or gum with you at all times, as they also assist in hydration.  Finally, try to minimize sugars, salts, alcohol, soft drinks, and coffee as much as possible; these products tend to exacerbate the condition.
  • Gum disease.  Gum disease occurs because of an overabundance of bacteria in the mouth; the populating bacteria can form plaque on the teeth.  If the material is not addressed by ongoing oral care, gum tissue may pull away from the teeth and recession could take place.  If this occurs, teeth may become loose or fall out.  Even so, there are individuals who do everything they can from an oral standpoint to circumvent gum problems yet still suffer from gum disease.  In this type of situation, medication, illness, or faulty dentures could be to blame.  What to do?  Be certain to regularly visit the dentist and follow his or her advice if there is an issue with your gums.  Bleeding, odor, pain, and recession are a few indicators that suggest there could be a problem.
  • Cancer.  Many people fear the “C” word, but some do not think it will happen in the mouth.  Nonetheless, the possibility of contracting oral cancer increases with age.  Signs that indicate cause for concern are mouth sores or lesions that take a while to heal, bumps, odd-feeling pieces of skin, bleeding, and lumps.  Tobacco (chewing and cigarette types) is a contributing factor, as is excess alcohol consumption.   Early oral cancer detection is important to a favorable prognosis.  Therefore, if you have any abnormalities in your mouth, immediately seek attention.

It is never too late to begin proper oral care; next week we look at some specific ways to help stave off problems.