Oral health is directly related to our overall health and wellbeing. However, maintaining oral hygiene becomes more challenging as age progresses. Older adults who are homebound or dependant on others for their daily activities are more likely to ignore their oral health. Discussions on oral health for older adults are nearly non-existent in India.
Though poor oral health is not fatal or life-threatening, it could cause distress to a person and affect their overall quality of life. Understanding oral hygiene and the disorders that come along with improper maintenance are the basic steps for building good oral health and taking decisions for dental treatment.
Also Read: Common dental issues in older adults
Nutrition and dental health
Nutrition plays a very important role in maintaining overall health. If nutritional needs are not fulfilled or are improper, there is an impact on physical and mental health. Poor oral health often affects nutritional status. Loose or painful teeth, no teeth or even ill-fitting dentures may result in loss in the desire or ability to eat. Unmet nutritional needs, in turn, will again affect oral health and the cycle continues.
Changes in salivary glands and salivary secretion
Saliva production generally diminishes with age. Saliva does the important activity of protecting your mouth, the airway, and the digestive tract. It also encourages several sensorimotor activities. Diminished secretion of saliva can cause many problems.
However, less or no saliva is not uniformly found in all healthy older adults, neither can it be said that all older adults with medical conditions or under medication experience this problem. Studies show that salivary gland degeneration is more of a neurological issue. Oral diseases like dental caries are attributed to less or no saliva secretion.
Changes in Mucous Membrane
The mucous membrane present in the mouth is responsible for a variety of activities that keep a person healthy and happy. With age, the oral mucosal membrane starts to thin and become smooth. This results in unwanted bacteria, chemicals, and pathogens making an entry inside your mouth throughout the day via your daily activities. These unwanted elements then cause a lot of problems like mouth ulcers and bad breath among others.
Changes in teeth
Over time, teeth undergo a lot of changes. In fact, many parts of a tooth face a complete physiological change except some parts like enamel. Enamel, meanwhile, is affected by outer elements like toothpaste and food. It slowly becomes less permeable and more brittle. Moreover, there is a build-up of elements like calcium, magnesium, and fluoride over the years. Tooth pulp has been analyzed and it has been discovered that the pulp of older adults has more fiber and lesser cells than that of younger people, thus reducing its volume.
Excessive build-up of plaque over teeth and gums is called periodontitis. Gingivitis, when left untreated, could cause periodontitis. Periodontitis is not a specific disease but it is an outcome of years of neglect and untreated periodontitis. Age only helps advance the condition. Changes in dietary habits, increased secretion of gingival from inflamed gingiva and salivary issues might lead to severe periodontitis.
Preventive dental procedures are necessary for maintaining good oral health. More awareness regarding proper oral health and hygiene and regular visits to the dentist, even if you do not have any visible dental problems are the need of the hour.
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