The Importance of Dental Hygiene for Senior Citizens
Oral health is important when it comes to all stages of life. Whether a baby is just starting to teeth or an adult is trying to keep theirs, it is an important aspect of our health and safety. This is because things like inflammatory disease, obesity, and types of cancer have a relationship with harmful bacteria found in gum disease. But, how often do we talk about dental hygiene for the elderly? What if you get to a point where you can’t care for yourself? Does oral health dip when they reach old age? If it is a problem, are there ways that it can be fixed? So, let’s talk about the dental health of senior citizens.
Our Dental Health as we Age
Everything lives then dies. It is part of our natural lifecycle, and death is the one guaranteed thing that we know everybody will go through at some point in their lives. We all know it at some level, but most if not all of us are afraid of not existing. However, whether we acknowledge that or not on a personal and spiritual level, there is no escaping it on a biological level.
When people get older, their teeth are far more likely to stay far more stained than their younger counterparts. They are also much more likely to suffer from dry mouth. When there is less saliva being produced in the mouth, this can cause a lack of calcification for the tooth, making them more brittle as time goes on. Senior citizens are also vulnerable to things like thrush, tooth decay, misaligned jaws, decreased sensitivity in taste and missing teeth.”
Now that we know that, just how often do senior citizens go to the dentist?
Dental Health and Senior Citizens
When it comes to oral health, senior citizens get the short end of the stick. Most, if not all of them have a good amount of decay. This comes from a variety of habits and practices that have changed over the last few decades, as well as a failing healthcare system for the elderly.
The Statistics for Adults 65 and Older
- 1 out of 5 older adults have untreated tooth decay
- 2 out of three suffer from gum disease
- The average age of diagnosed oral cancer is at 62 years old.
- Nearly 1 in 5 adults in this age bracket have already lost all of their teeth
The idea sounds a little insane. Why would so many people in that age bracket be suffering from poor oral health? There are a lot of contributing factors.
Factors Contributing to Poor Oral Health
According to the CDC “Older Americans with the poorest oral health tend to be those who are economically disadvantaged, lack insurance and are members of racial and ethnic minorities. Being disabled, homebound, or institutionalized (e.g., seniors who live in nursing homes) also increases the risk of poor oral health.”
But these aren’t the only reasons why most senior citizens are suffering from the adverse effects of tooth decay. Other things need to be brought into consideration when talking about healthcare altogether, let alone oral health.
Belated Education leading to Institutional Neglect
Education or the passing on of information from one person to another tends to have its own lifespan. While it has been at least 20 years since we have been able to access information at rapid speeds, most people forget that this is a new development. Until this point in the information age, we had to rely on people willing to share that information to people who were willing to listen. Even before the printing press, the spread of information was at a snail’s pace and was controlled by a very select few.
Dentistry as we know it didn’t come about in America until the 1840s. Even then, any sort of daily dental habits or public awareness of brushing did not become standardized in American public consciousness until the 1940s. That was only 79 years ago. Most people have a lifespan of 80 years now.
Even today, because of old yet rigid Medicaid definitions from the ’60s, dental services fall under the classification of optional. That’s right, Medicare/Medicaid does not have dental services attached to health insurance.
And that is not mentioning how normal it was up until very recently to smoke tobacco on a regular basis. Honestly, it is shocking that not MORE senior citizens are suffering from the effects of tooth decay.
Dentists should talk more about the importance of brushing and flossing. Especially around older generations. While older people can be stubborn, the fact that we don’t talk about this more to older generations is appalling. Because ignorance is not bliss. It is just ignoring a very real threat to peoples health and quality of life.
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