Oral hygiene is important at any age, but many lack appreciation for just how important it is in our older population. Because of the ties between oral health and overall health, mouth care is critical for the elderly.
The Connection Between Oral Health and Disease
Your mouth is teeming with bacteria — most of which are harmless. But your mouth is the entry point to your respiratory and digestive tracts, and some of those bacteria can cause disease. Normal hygiene practices such as brushing and flossing keep the bugs at bay, but insufficient care can lead to a host of health issues.
Insufficient cleaning can lead to tooth decay, gingivitis, and periodontitis. (Periodontitis is a gum infection that deteriorates the bone structure that supports your teeth. The disease is far more frequent among the elderly: as much as 64 percent of seniors have it.)
These infections can spread to other areas of the body and are connected to a variety of other medical conditions, including cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
Medical Conditions Linked to Oral Health
Endocarditis. This infection of the endocardium typically occurs when bacteria or other germs from another part of your body, such as your mouth, spread through your bloodstream and attach to certain areas of your heart.
Cardiovascular disease. Medical research connects inflammation/infection caused by oral bacteria to heart disease, atherosclerosis, and strokes.
Pneumonia. Bacteria from your mouth can find their way to your lungs, causing pneumonia and other respiratory diseases.
Diabetes. By reducing the body’s resistance to infection, diabetes puts your gums at risk. Gum disease is more frequent and severe among people who have diabetes, which lowers the body’s resistance to infection.
Osteoporosis. This bone-weakening disease is linked to periodontal bone loss and tooth loss. Certain drugs used to treat osteoporosis carry a small risk of damage to the bones of the jaw.
The Importance of Vigilant Oral Hygiene and Regular Dentist Visits
While some brushing and flossing is far better than none, frequency is important. Don’t give mouth bacteria the time to propagate by waiting too long between cleanings. If you only clean your teeth once in a blue moon, the mechanical actions of brushing and flossing can release bacteria that may eventually find their way into the bloodstream. Brush twice per day to keep bacteria at healthy levels, and use a mouth rinse to wash away the particles afterward.
If you’re dedicated to brushing your teeth twice per day, flossing, and using mouthwash, do you still need to have regular cleanings at the dentist’s office? Yes, and here’s why.
It’s a challenge to brush perfectly every time. Plaque builds up in those hard-to-reach places between your teeth or at the back of your mouth. Your dental hygienist can remove the plaque from those tricky spots before it hardens into tartar, which is far more difficult to remove. Get your teeth professionally cleaned every six months to prevent plaque and tartar buildup.
Your regular visits are also an important opportunity to catch problems early. It’s not just limited to cavities or gum disease; the state of your mouth may serve as an early warning for diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and even cancer! Your oral health is a window to your overall health, so don’t forget to schedule an appointment with your Boise dentist.