Receiving adequate dental care is a key ingredient in maintaining good oral health. That’s a given. As we age and our immune system struggles to keep up, this becomes increasingly important because, like other parts of our bodies, our teeth and gums become more vulnerable to disease, infection, and other complications.
Without a doubt, seniors need to place a high priority on regularly visiting the dentist in order to maintain their oral health.
But, the need for regular dental visits and daily self-care goes beyond just oral health. In many ways, it can impact overall health and even influence the severity of certain health issues. As an example, a study published by the American Heart Association reported that individuals who had regular dental examinations experienced a 24% lower risk of heart disease and a 14% lower risk of stroke.
Here’s a look at just some of the most serious health issues that a dentist could potentially diagnose through a general examination, often before the patient or their primary care physician are aware of them:
Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia
The connection between dental care and dementia is suggested to be a two-way street, although scientists don’t understand all of the details yet.
The Journal of the American Geriatric Society published the results of a study following over 5,000 elderly patients for 18 years. Among their findings was the fact that those individuals who failed to brush their teeth at least once a day experienced a 65% higher chance of developing dementia. The correlation is not fully understood, but the statistics are sound.
On the other hand, a dentist can often diagnose early signs of dementia by noting a deterioration in an elderly patient’s oral health. The reason? One of the first behavioral changes that comes with dementia is forgetting simple daily routines that have always been second nature in the past, like brushing your teeth. When an elderly patient who’s always cared for their teeth suddenly shows signs of not caring for them anymore, it could be a sign they may be forgetting.
Heart disease and stroke
"Among their findings was the fact that those individuals who failed to brush their teeth at least once a day experienced a 65% higher chance of developing dementia."
The heart and blood vessels are highly vulnerable to bacterial infection. And, logically, your mouth is one of the number one sources of bacteria in your body.
Understandably, then, numerous studies have linked periodontal disease with increased danger of heart attacks and coronary artery disease. Infections that start in the teeth and gums can easily spread to other parts of the body via the blood vessels also, even lodging in the heart itself, which can be deadly.
Those who are already battling diabetes have to be very aware of any sign of gum disease as it’s one of the most common and dangerous oral health results of this disorder.
At the same time, loose teeth, inflamed gums, and bleeding in the mouth are key symptoms that may indicate an undiagnosed case of diabetes. Dentists are always on the lookout for these telltale signs and will recommend a checkup immediately if diabetes is a possibility.
This disease most commonly affects older women, and causes a gradual loss in bone density that can eventually become dangerous and debilitating. It is treatable and can be dramatically slowed or even stopped, especially if it’s caught early.
While osteoporosis does not directly weaken the teeth (since they’re not made from the same material as bone), it does impact the jaw bone that support the teeth. Since the teeth are constantly under pressure from chewing, even the slightest loss of strength or density in the bone surrounding the teeth may be noticed by the patient or the dentist as otherwise healthy teeth begin to loosen or gum lines recede.
This early warning sign, diagnosed by the dentist, can lead to successful early treatment.
Other common conditions that dentists can diagnose during a general examination include:
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- Dry mouth (a common symptom in many serious disorders including Parkinson’s disease)
- Teeth grinding
By now, it’s clear. Senior dental care is a vital part of maintaining good oral health, but it goes far beyond just that. And, for seniors who are facing declining health on several fronts, it’s even more important to maintain this mouth-healthy habit. Are you looking for ways to save on dental care? Find out how seniors can take advantage of savings even without dental insurance in our video and contact us today to learn more.