The Importance of Dental Health for Seniors

Our oral health is more important than we might realize. Our mouths act as the entry point to our digestive and respiratory tracts. Along with our body’s natural defenses, proper oral care, like brushing our teeth and flossing, work to keep bacteria under control. However, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 35% of seniors in the U.S. do not undergo an annual dental visit.

As we age, our risk of developing oral health problems can increase, putting us at risk of developing dental-related illnesses and diseases. Many older adults rely on medication for various health concerns, which can harm their oral health. While taking care of our teeth might seem like a small issue, ignoring our dental health can impact our overall wellness in different ways.

Oral Health Concerns for Older Adults

As they advance in age, older adults are more susceptible to oral health problems that can negatively impact one’s quality of life. Here are a few of the most common oral health issues among older adults:

Tooth and root decay
According to the CDC,  1 in 4 older adults have untreated tooth decay. The tooth roots become exposed as gum tissue begins to recede from the tooth, causing toothaches, difficulties eating, chewing, and swallowing. Those with severe cases might also experience swelling and pus around the tooth.

Periodontal/Gum disease
This disease is caused by plaque build-up and can be made worse by tobacco use, improper bridges and dentures, poor diets, and food left in the teeth. Also, cancers, anemia, and diabetes can increase the risk of gum disease. Gum disease is common in older adults and while adults living with it has decreased since the 1970’s thanks to better dental health, according to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (1999-2004), approximately 17.2% of seniors over 65 have gum disease and 10.5% have it severally.

Tooth darkening and loss
As we age, our enamel layer weakens, allowing dentin, or the tissue underneath the enamel, to show through, causing the teeth to appear yellow. While darkened teeth can be caused by consuming stain-causing foods and beverages, it can also be a sign of a more serious issue.

Oral cancer
Oral and pharyngeal cancers are most common in older adults. Many people are diagnosed around 62 years old.

Dry mouth
Medications, cancer treatments, and other underlying diseases or conditions can lead to dry mouth. The reduction in saliva flow can dramatically increase the risk of cavities.

Impaired taste
Loss of taste is not uncommon in older adults, but poor dental health can contribute. Diseases, medications, and dentures can all increase the risk of decreased taste.

Oral Hygiene Tips for Seniors

The good news is that dental care is something that can be done easily from the comfort of your own home. In addition to getting an annual dental exam, you can also follow these simple steps to reduce the risk of infection, disease, and overall poor dental health.

Practice good hygiene. Brushing and flossing your teeth every day can help remove plaque, which causes tooth decay and gum disease. Consider using fluoride toothpaste, a soft-bristle toothbrush, and brush after breakfast and before going to sleep. If you have trouble flossing, there are alternatives such as a pick or handheld flossing brush. Be sure to take out dentures for at least 4 hours or overnight and clean them regularly.
Monitor changes in your oral health. While we’re used to monitoring changes in our skin, like texture or moles, we need to do the same in our mouths. If you notice a new sore spot, lump, or white patch in your mouth, you should consult your doctor or dentist.
See your dentist regularly. While dental needs vary from person to person, most dentists recommend one to two checkups and cleanings per year. You might consider consulting your dentist to see what your individual needs are to maintain proper oral health.
Lead a healthy lifestyle. Our diets and lifestyles can have an impact on our oral health. Having a healthy diet and limiting sugary foods and drinks can help prevent tooth decay. Smoking cigarettes and chewing tobacco can increase your risk of gum disease and mouth cancer.
Consult your doctor. If you’re experiencing dry mouth, make sure to consult your doctor. Dry mouth can make eating and talking difficult and increase your risk of tooth decay and infection.

What Happens During a Dental Exam

If it’s been a while since your last dental exam or you are preparing for a visit to a new dentist, you can expect your dentist to ask you the following questions about your dental history:

• When was your last dental appointment?
• Have you noticed any changes occurring in your mouth?
• Are you experiencing any tooth sensitivity?
• Do you have trouble chewing, tasting, or swallowing?
• Are you having any pain, discomfort, soreness, or bleeding?

After your dentist goes through your history, they will proceed with the examination by evaluating your skin for moles or discoloration, your bite, jaw, salivary glands and lymph nodes, interior cheeks, your tongue, and other inner areas.

Your dentist will also check your dentures to see if there are any cracks or worn out spaces. If you’re nervous about your exam, you can always call ahead of time and ask the dental staff what to expect upon your visit.

Paying for Dental Care

Traditional Medicare plans don’t cover routine dental care. Instead, organizations like AARP offer supplemental insurance plans for their members and cover dental cleanings and exams. Discount dental plans are also a good option for those looking for coverage. You can search for a reduced dental plan through the National Association of Dental Plans. Once you select a dentist within the network, you can expect to pay between 10 to 60% less than the typical fee.

Dental Care at Maplewood Senior Living

Our communities at Maplewood Senior Living provide robust healthcare services, including dental care for residents.

Brian Geyser, APRN-BC, MSN, VP Clinical Innovation & Population Health at Maplewood Senior Living told us, “We know good oral health is critical for older adults. Taking good care of the mouth and teeth not only reduces the possibility of gum disease, dry mouth, oral cancer, and infection, but it can help prevent things like pneumonia, heart disease, hypertension, and other non-oral conditions. That’s why we offer on-site dental services in all of our Maplewood communities.”

If you’re interested in hearing more about our offerings, or to schedule a tour, please contact us.

When is The Right Time for Assisted Living?

As we age our health care needs are likely to change, which can make navigating health-related decisions difficult. While many older adults envision spending their retirement years living independently, it is likely that many seniors will require additional support later on in life. At some point, many adults may have to decide whether to hire outside help, rely on a family member or move into an assisted living community. This process can become more complicated when failing health and financial concerns are factored in.

What is Assisted Living for Seniors?

Senior assisted living facilities are designed for older adults who need additional support with their day-to-day lives. These communities offer support with daily tasks such as eating, taking medication, bathing, housekeeping, preparing meals, and monitoring medicine. For added peace of mind, medical care is also accessible around the clock in the event of an emergency. As older adults begin to consider transitioning into an assisted living community, many older adults and their family members ask, “How do I know it’s the right time to move?”

Signs it Might be Time for Assisted Living

Coming to terms with a loss of independence can be extremely difficult for aging adults. In fact, for many adults, concerned family members often initiate the conversation of moving first. While we all age at different rates and in different ways, there are some clear signs that it might be time to move into an assisted living community.

Declining health conditions– As we age, we become more at risk of chronic conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease. In fact, according to research conducted by AARP, “more than 70 million Americans ages 50 and older, or four out of five older adults, suffer from at least one chronic condition.” Managing these conditions, including traveling to doctor’s appointments and taking the appropriate medications, can pose problems for older adults. Assisted living communities help seniors manage these conditions, which allow residents to enjoy a higher quality of life.

Difficulty with managing finances– Age-related memory loss can cause confusion when it comes to managing money. This can make paying bills on time and sticking to a budget more difficult. Other memory disorders, like Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, can also affect one’s ability to understand finances, putting them more at risk of scams, forgetting to pay bills, or filing taxes properly.

Inability to care for oneself– If your loved one is unable to maintain their living space, bathe themselves, or complete basic daily tasks, it may be time to consider assisted living. A large number of family members take on the responsibility of caregiving without understanding how demanding that can be, especially when they have their own families to care for each day. Assisted living facilities have caregivers on staff who will make sure their residents maintain proper hygiene, a healthy diet, and live in a clean environment.

Lack of socializationAccording to a study conducted by the National Institute on Aging, nearly 17% of all Americans aged 65 or older are isolated due to their location, living status, language, or disability. Loneliness and isolation can have negative long-term effects on one’s health, such as cognitive decline, increased mortality, and feelings of depression. Socialization is at the core of assisted living facilities. Planned activities, social dining areas, and one-on-one interaction are everyday occurrences at most facilities.

Questions to Consider

Making the move into an assisted living community can be a hard decision for everyone involved and finding the right time to move can be even more challenging. When a loved one has suffered from serious health concerns, such as a broken hip, the need for an assisted living community might become more obvious. However, for older adults who still manage to take care of themselves, but are slowly losing their independence, the transition can become unclear. If you’re not sure if now is the time for assisted living, Consumer Affairs has gathered a series of questions to help you in your decision-making process, which is summarized below:

Health

Has your loved one fallen recently?
According to the National Council on Aging, falls are the leading cause of fatal injuries and the most common cause of non-fatal related hospital admissions among older adults. If your loved one has recently fallen or is consistently falling, this may be a sign that you should consider a move to an assisted living community.

Is your loved one taking their medications?
If you notice your loved one is struggling to keep up with their medications, try to find out the cause. Are they forgetting? Is picking it up at the pharmacy difficult for them? If the answer is yes, assisted living can help. On-site staff can ensure that each resident has access to and takes their medications on time.

Does your loved one suffer from a chronic condition?
If your senior has been diagnosed with a worsening chronic condition, assisted living communities can help preserve their quality of life. For those with chronic conditions, basic daily tasks can become increasingly difficult. When you have staff support, energy can be reserved for exploring hobbies and socializing with others.

Self-Care

Is your loved one having trouble taking care of themselves?
Cooking, housekeeping, laundry, and other basic daily tasks can become more difficult as we age. Assisted living communities offer these services so seniors can avoid related injuries and instead spend time doing what they love.

Are they eating properly?
Have you noticed significant weight loss or weight gain within the last few months? Both rapid weight loss and weight gain can be side-effects of health problems or difficulty in preparing and eating food. If you’re not sure what the cause might be, you can always consult their doctor and ask if assisted living might help relieve the problem.

Mental-health and dementia

Do they wander from home and get lost?
This could be a sign of a cognitive issue such as Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia. If you notice your loved one wandering or getting lost in familiar places, talk to your loved one and their healthcare provider. Assisted living communities with memory care units are designed to support those with cognitive impairments and memory disorders.

Are they isolated?
Isolation is a public health concern, especially for older adults. Long-term isolation can lead to increased blood pressure, heart disease, anxiety, and depression. Your loved one might be feeling isolated if they rarely leave their home, live alone or have stopped participating in social activities. Initiating a conversation about isolation and loneliness with your loved one might help you make an informed decision when it comes to assisted living.

Assisted Living at Maplewood Senior Living

Watching your loved one age is hard. Recognizing that they’re beginning to need more care can be painful. Our assisted living communities at Maplewood Senior living are here to help and give you peace of mind. To learn more about our communities or to schedule a tour, please contact us.

We also have a complimentary Guide – Is It Time for Assisted Living? Please download it today. Please Click HERE to do so.