As we journey through life, the passage of time leaves its mark on us all. Just as a horse’s gums recede with age, making their teeth appear longer, our teeth can also undergo changes over the years. If you’ve noticed your teeth looking longer than before, you might be witnessing the effects of receding gums which expose the root surface. As your dedicated Honolulu Dentist, I recognize the significance of these transformations and the role they play in our overall health and well-being.
The Growing Concern of Aging in Hawaii’s Baby Boomer Generation
Every encounter with my parents, who are squarely part of the baby boomer generation, serves as a poignant reminder. The realization is that by 2035, as the final wave of baby boomers crosses into retirement, nearly one-third of Hawaii’s population will have surpassed the age of 60. This evolving landscape brings to light a series of challenges, including housing shortages, a lack of caregivers, and the specter of high inflation rates. As a Honolulu Dentist, my concerns naturally gravitate toward the realm of dental care. Embracing the role of a family dentist, my preoccupation extends to the holistic well-being of the community I serve.
The Interconnected Web of Oral and Overall Health
Oral health directly affects overall health and quality of life. In fact, dental disease is a common cause of medical and emergency room visits, according to the American Dental Association. Medications and common chronic illnesses in older adults, such as diabetes or heart disease, put seniors at an increased risk for dental problems. Although my parents are still “young” 60’s and 70’s. their regular visits are a priority…. I look at their oral hygiene visits as their first line of defense, as our team of dental hygienists check for those exact reasons and clues that would indicate that more and attention is needed in their daily lives.
Safeguarding Senior Smiles: Unveiling the Importance of Regular Dental Care
As the sands of time inevitably reshape the landscape of our smiles, vigilance in senior dental care emerges as a shield against age-related challenges. Here are seven compelling reasons to prioritize this vital aspect of well-being:
- Tooth decay. Tooth decay, scientifically referred to as dental caries or cavities, is a prevalent oral health issue marked by the gradual breakdown of the protective outer layer of the tooth, known as enamel. This deterioration occurs due to the production of acids by bacteria in the mouth. These acids weaken the enamel, resulting in the formation of small openings or holes within the tooth’s structure. If left unattended, these openings can deepen and penetrate the inner layers of the tooth, causing discomfort, sensitivity, and even potential infection. An additional factor contributing to the heightened risk of cavities among older adults is dry mouth. Saliva, a natural defense mechanism, helps shield the teeth by curbing bacterial growth. However, dry mouth, often caused by certain medications commonly taken by seniors for conditions like depression, asthma, and high blood pressure, can compromise this protective function.
- Gum disease. Gum disease is prevalent among seniors, with two out of three individuals aged 65 and older affected, as reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Termed periodontitis, severe gum disease can trigger issues like inflamed and bleeding gums, difficulties with chewing, and even tooth loss, along with other health complications. A challenging aspect is that gum disease often remains symptomless until it has progressed significantly. To counter this, prioritizing senior dental care and frequent dental check-ups proves pivotal in preventing the onset and advancement of gum disease.
- Tooth loss is common in older adults. In fact, one in five adults 65 and older has lost all their teeth, according to the CDC. Tooth loss can affect nutrition because seniors with missing teeth may not be able to eat or enjoy fresh food options, like fruits and vegetables.
- Heart disease. Inflammation caused by gum disease increases the risk of heart disease, according to the American Academy of Periodontology. Gum disease can also make certain heart conditions worse and may be associated with a higher risk of stroke.
- Diabetes poses a heightened risk for dental issues, particularly among those with poor blood sugar control. Elevated glucose levels in saliva create a conducive environment for bacterial growth in the mouth, leading to problems like inflammation and gum disease. Intriguingly, there’s a reciprocal relationship: gum disease can impact blood sugar control in individuals with diabetes. Maintaining optimal oral hygiene and seeking dental care can mitigate these risks and promote overall well-being, especially for those managing diabetes.
- Pneumonia. Older adults with poor dental hygiene, especially those who smoke, are at increased risk of bacterial pneumonia. This is because, as someone breathes, bacteria in the mouth can travel to the lungs. Maintaining good dental hygiene in elderly adults who can’t care for themselves may help lower the risk of this type of pneumonia.
- Oral cancer. Older adults are at higher risk for oral cancers. The risk is higher for people who chew tobacco or smoke cigarettes, pipes, or cigars. Regular dentist appointments can help detect problems early.
Empowering Seniors: The Role of Dental Professionals
The culmination of a regular oral hygiene visit sees dentists collaborating with dedicated hygienists, pooling their expertise to ensure optimal dental health. Amidst the flurry of an active senior life, the simple acts of brushing and flossing can sometimes take a back seat. I know taking two minutes to brush and floss seems like an eternity when the zoom meeting with the orchid society is beginning, or the dog is whining to go on a walk. Yet, these small, steadfast routines are the guardians of our oral well-being, a shield against the ravages of time. Just as aging is a collective experience, the dental team forms an integral part of this journey, fostering oral health and celebrating the beauty of each senior smile.