Igor A. Savchuk Articles on Medical Pathology & Healthcare

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Oral Health – Issues Common In Seniors

As we age, the normal repair and regenerative functionality of our body decline. There are no exceptions to this. Though if you have maintained a healthy lifestyle, associated age-related health problems will be relatively lesser. Skin, hair and oral health are the first ones to be affected with advancing age. While the first two can be mostly cosmetic in nature, it is not wise to ignore problems of oral health, especially if they occur in seniors.

Xerostomia

Xerostomia is a condition that causes dry mouth due to reduced or absent saliva flow. It is not particularly a disease but could be a precursor to various medical conditions, one of the side effects of radiation exposure to the head and the neck, or unexpected side effects of some medicines. Decreased salivary gland function might or might not give rise to this condition. This is more often common among older adults, where close to 20% of seniors could report of xerostomia. While it is explicitly not age-related, the body’s ability to cope with certain side effects of medicines can cause or aggravate it. Common problems associated with xerostomia can be constant sore throat, burning sensations, difficulty when speaking and swallowing, hoarseness and/or dry nasal passages. Since oral pH is also reduced, the chances of increased plaque or dental caries increases. It can also lead to gum decay and/or tooth loss.

Bad Breath

Bad breath, also called halitosis can be caused due to many factors and they are not particularly age-related. The propensity of halitosis in seniors is more because of lower or absent saliva flow in most cases. Build up of plaque and gum decay are the major reasons why bad breath occurs in seniors if they are not maintaining good oral hygiene. Added to that, the consumption of sugary foods, the use of tobacco products and certain medications can also cause halitosis. Brushing twice a day and drinking water regularly can sometimes be effective, but if the problem persists, it would need the attention of a dentist. Sometimes, small stones forming in the tonsils can also lead to halitosis. In the worst case scenario, even some cancers can cause bad breath.

Poor Denture Care

Dentures are a replacement for your original teeth. They don’t have active blood vessels, neither are they rooted in your gums, so it becomes all the more crucial for you to take care of them. Unfortunately, while initially people are careful about cleaning and maintaining their dentures appropriately, as time goes by, they tend to ignore dentures and their care. In the case of seniors, this kind of negligence can be quite harmful. Dentists often opt that dentures be removed before going to sleep so that the gums can relax from the day-long pressure they have been under. Most dentures keep a proper fit if they are soaked overnight in water or denture-soaking solution. Brush your dentures at least once a day and always rinse them thoroughly before putting them back on. Improper care of dentures can cause halitosis and plaque build up in the neighboring teeth.

Gum Diseases

Gum diseases in the elderly can be a serious issue if ignored. Especially because of lower immunity due to advancing age. Gingivitis is the problem that occurs first in case proper dental hygiene is not followed. Build up of plaque and the toxins released by the bacteria in the plaque cause inflammation of the gums and it is clearly noticed by the reddening and softening of gums. In extreme cases, casual brushing of the teeth can also cause bleeding of the gums. But gingivitis is not as bad as what can follow – periodontitis. If the space between the gums and the teeth is severely weakened, bacteria and their toxins, as well as the enzymes produced in the body can start damaging the underlying bone that can result in loss of teeth. Gum disease has also been linked to other major health concerns like strokes and heart disease, especially in people with weak immune systems.

Tooth Discoloration

Tooth discoloration can be caused mainly due to food, beverages, and additives. Still, under cosmetic dentistry, the discoloration can fall under one of three categories – intrinsic, extrinsic and age-related. Coffee, wine cola and tobacco can cause extrinsic stains or discoloration. These can naturally be gotten rid of by proper brushing, after every meal or just by brushing twice a day. If the stains are a bit tough, you could check with your dentist about whitening toothpaste. Intrinsic discoloration could happen due to reasons that are not naturally under your control and you can do little yourself to solve the problem. However, age-related discoloration could be a combination of extrinsic and intrinsic factors. With age, the enamel of teeth thins away and if you’re not careful about dental care or are not brushing properly, dentin could start to show through and that causes the yellow or brown stains on teeth to appear.

Cavities

Cavities are probably the worst kind of ailment that can happen to teeth themselves. The underlying reasons remain the same for most cases. Excessive consumption of sugary foods, not cleaning teeth properly and build up of plaque are the primary ones. Here, the tooth enamel is destroyed and the cavity forms as a dark-colored pit in the tooth that can go as far as the root of the tooth where it would become necessary to do a root canal operation or extraction to prevent damage to nerves. Weaker enamel and pulp of teeth in seniors make the problems severe for them. Which is why it becomes doubly important for them to be more careful about what foods they should eat and how careful they are about their oral hygiene.

Tooth Loss

Tooth loss can be averted naturally in seniors by just being careful and maintaining good oral health. Not allowing the gums to be weak has a major role in keeping teeth intact. Tooth loss can happen due to cavities and gum diseases, both of which are majorly created by toxins released from bacteria that are found in accumulated plaque. But nevertheless, with age, gums can start becoming weak and teeth can naturally fall out even if proper oral hygiene is maintained. However, the age at which such natural tooth loss happens will be much later in one’s life.

Uneven Jawbone

Uneven jawbone or jawline can be present during birth but in seniors, it mostly happens due to trauma, broken jaw or through TMJ disorders (temporomandibular joint disorders). Arthritis is one cause of TMJ disorders apart from trauma. Symptoms of an uneven jawline can include pain in temple, in the jaw joint area, clicking jaw, tight jaw, pain in the shoulder or back and popping in the ear. Braces and retainers can help in cases of misaligned teeth that cause an uneven jawline. In more serious cases, surgery can opt for that include maxillary osteotomy, mandibular osteotomy, genioplasty, and jaw wiring.

A Diminished Sense Of Taste

Taste and smell are sensory effects that are related, so many disorders of taste are associated with a decreased or impaired sense of smell, while they can also be independent. Taste disorders can range from obstructions in or damage to the nose to damage to the brain and nervous system. A pure taste disorder that is pretty common is a phantom taste sensation. People can feel a bad taste in the mouth that does not go away. The decreased ability to taste certain types of foods is known medically as hypogeusia; while the absence of taste is ageusia. Dysgeusia is the presence of a metallic, rancid, or foul taste in the mouth. Certain medications can also affect the ability to taste. Taste sensation can also be impaired during the normal aging process, so seniors may complain of an inability to taste certain foods. Xerostomia can also lead to the reduced sensation of taste, so elderly people need to be extra careful if they have this medical condition.

Darkened Teeth

Darkened teeth can be caused due to constant negligence of oral health if the person doesn’t have any intrinsic discoloration of teeth. Giving up brushing or improper brushing can lead to darkening of teeth. So can chewing tobacco and having foods with excessive pH levels. In case of intrinsic discoloration, damage to the root canal, excessive damage to the pulp or any kind of trauma can cause teeth to darken in shades ranging from reddish pink to dark purple. Completely darkened teeth are basically dead and if you have any doubt that your teeth have suffered any sudden trauma, it is best to consult a dentist as soon as possible.

These are some of the problems that senior people might face with regards to their oral and dental health. Regular dental checkups can prevent many of these problems from happening. However, in the case of cavities, a lost tooth or a rotting tooth, it becomes important to consult a dentist immediately to check for repair and reconstructive processed. Check up ‘dental implants near me’ on your favorite search engine and bookmark the nearest place. You never know when you might require the assistance. A dental implant cost can range from 3000 dollars to 4500 dollars based on the kind of implant you choose from among the selection provided by your dentist.

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Only researched & annotated information for the digest of medical professionals, students, and the curious. EMAIL ME if you spotted a mistake.

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