Oral Hygiene as we age
The other day I read that gum disease has been linked to a raised risk of developing dementia. A recent study found that “severe gum disease” had a “modest link” to dementia. In addition, the study found that lifestyle factors like smoking, exercise and alcohol consumption levels did not appear to have any effect on the connection. The story had not said the “severe gum disease was the connection; it said the gum disease was the connection. Big difference.
As we age, we should take care of our health, including our oral hygiene and our teeth. We should be brushing our teeth at least twice a day, flossing at least once a day and seeing their dentist for a cleaning/teeth checkup at least twice a year.
Why is this important, according to the Mayo Clinic, oral health offers clues about your overall health — and that problems in your mouth can affect the rest of your body?
Like other areas of the body, your mouth teems with bacteria — mostly harmless. But your mouth is the entry point to your digestive and respiratory tracts, and some of these bacteria can cause disease.
Normally the body's natural defences and good oral health care, such as daily brushing and flossing, keep bacteria under control. However, without proper oral hygiene, bacteria can reach levels that might lead to oral infections, such as tooth decay and gum disease.
Brushing my teeth twice a day was not something my parents insisted that I do and trips to the dentist were few and far between, because of the cost. When I had real problems I would go and get my tooth removed. We did not learn strong oral health habits from our parents (regular tooth brushing didn’t become a habit for most people in the U.S. until after World War II). Younger Boomers (those born after 1957) probably learned of it in the classroom, but if you were born before then, they, like me, may not have been practicing brushing and flossing regularly from their early years.
I went for many years before I returned to see a dentist and when I went, I was lucky and found a Dentist who was very good. I had numerous cavities and was in danger of losing all my teeth, but I did not want to have dentures so with my dentist's help I put myself on a routine of brushing twice a day and seeing him 4 times a year. The path I decided to take is working and I still have all of my teeth and hope to have them all my life.
I am surprised that some people also look at twice-daily brushing and flossing as burdens. Most people - not just seniors - skip brushing their teeth; one-third of adults don’t floss their teeth and about the same amount do not brush their teeth at least twice a day.
Add in physical issues that can make it hard for some of us to brush our teeth and floss, and it’s easy to see why some of us may have decided it’s too much trouble.
I did not want dentures, but many seniors have them and Denture care is important for many seniors. After all, if dentures aren’t cared for properly, you are not able to eat as well. What’s more, if the dentures aren’t fitted properly, or inserted properly, they can cause a lot of pain.
I understand that dentures need to be cleaned every day and their care is more complicated than for natural teeth and could be more difficult if you have a vision, cognitive or dexterity issues. They also need to be checked daily for breaks and, if broken, need to be professionally repaired (never try to repair dentures at home).
Good oral hygiene habits include:
· Brush your teeth at least twice a day with a soft-bristled brush using fluoride toothpaste.
· Floss daily.
· Use mouthwash to remove food particles left after brushing and flossing.
· Eat a healthy diet and limit food with added sugars (cookies, cakes, candy, soda, etc.
· Replace your toothbrush every three months or sooner if bristles are splayed or worn.
· Schedule regular dental checkups and cleanings.
· Avoid tobacco use, including cigarettes and chewing tobacco.
· And, of course, making an appointment with a dentist’s office every two months at least for dental cleanings and checkups.
· Also, contact your dentist as soon as an oral health problem arises. Taking care of your oral health is an investment in your overall health.