As we age, many of us are concerned about our oral health as much as we are any other part of our health. Some elderly dental problems include periodontal disease. Periodontal disease is also known as gum disease. This disease is common and affects just under 20 percent of all seniors age 65 and older. Gum disease for many can be an inevitable part of aging. Thus, preventing periodontal disease is extremely important.
Periodontal disease, also called gum disease, is caused by bacteria in dental plaque. Periodontal disease can become serious and lead to tooth decay and even tooth loss. Understanding that gum disease is one of the biggest elderly dental problems leads us to learn more about preventing periodontal disease so that seniors can live their best, most healthy lives by taking as many preventative measures as possible.
Regular Oral Care + Routine Dental Cleanings
This is not always enough to prevent periodontal disease, but it is the most powerful thing we can do as seniors to preserve our oral health. Whether we have practiced excellent oral care for a lifetime, or we are just starting to come into awareness about its importance now, we must do our best to maintain our oral health or to mitigate any decay and tooth loss. We do know that brushing twice a day, flossing, using mouthwash, and seeing a dentist every six months for a deep cleaning and exam is very important to our health.
In order to take the necessary steps in preventing periodontal disease, we must first understand what exactly it is. Periodontal disease is actually an infection of the gums and the surrounding tissues that hold the teeth in their places. Gum disease develops when the sticky film of bacteria, known as plaque, is able to build up along and under the gum line.
In periodontitis, gums pull away from the teeth and form spaces. These spaces are known as pockets and they then become infected. The body’s immune system fights the bacteria as the plaque spreads and grows below the gum line. Then the bacterial toxins and the body’s natural response to infection start to break down the bone and connective tissue that hold teeth in place.
There is actually another form of gum disease called gingivitis as well. Gingivitis is a much milder form of gum disease and is reversible with good oral care such as routine cleanings, brushing, and flossing. Gingivitis causes the gums to become red, swollen and they can bleed easily. You may notice this when brushing and flossing. It is possible that you could have gingivitis without noticing any symptoms at all.
This really underscores the importance of seeing your dentist for regular exams and cleanings rather than just going in for an appointment when you are experiencing pain or having a problem. If gingivitis is left untreated it can become much more severe.
If you are worried about your oral health and believe you may be at risk for periodontal disease, you should know the warning signs.
6 Indicators of Gum Disease
- Swollen or puffy gums
- Gums that bleed easily
- Gums that feel tender when touched
- Gums that pull away from your teeth
- Chronic bad breath
- Loose teeth
6 Steps in Preventing Periodontal Disease
Here are six of the most important steps seniors can take in preventing periodontal disease, or in lessening the impact of it after it has become a problem:
- Brush twice a day
- Floss regularly (once a day) to remove plaque from between teeth
- Visit the dentist regularly for a check-up and professional cleaning (every six months)
- Do not smoke or use chewing tobacco
- Do not drink sugary sodas
- Eat a well-balanced diet and avoid extra sugars
Many factors can contribute to gum disease. Gum disease does not develop overnight. In some cases, it can be the result of many years of poor oral health. Poor oral hygiene leads to plaque buildup, and, as we know, plaque buildup is the cause of gum disease. Again, brushing twice a day, flossing once a day, and using a dentist-recommended mouthwash are all extremely important steps you can take in preventing periodontal disease.
Seeing your dentist twice a year for an exam and cleaning is also one of the biggest favors you can do yourself for your oral health care. During your dentist appointments, your dentist or dental hygienist will remove both plaque and a form of hardened plaque known as tartar. Tartar cannot be removed by brushing and flossing at home.
4 Factors That Increase Your Risk for Elderly Dental Problems
- Hormonal changes in aging women
- Medications that reduce saliva production
In order to prevent gum disease from impacting your health as you age, you must take steps to be proactive with your oral health care. There is much you can do at home on your own. Becoming and staying mindful about your oral health care routine is such a great way to take care of yourself. Dedicate time for your oral health each morning and afternoon.
Taking a mindful approach to brushing and flossing will help you use the proper technique without rushing yourself. It’s also a great way to show yourself you are important and that you deserve to be in the best health you possibly can be. It’s empowering to know that the seemingly small actions we take every day can have a profoundly positive effect on our health and longevity.