Are you concerned about the impact aging will have on your teeth and airway? You’re smart to be concerned. About 68% of adults over 65 have some form of gum disease, and the CDC reports that 1 in 5 older adults are missing all of their teeth. Not only that, poor oral and airway health have been linked to conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, heart disease, and other chronic illnesses.
As a Complete Health dental office, Sierra Smiles is privileged to serve patients of all ages and phases of life, including older adults. We want every patient to have a healthy smile, a good night’s sleep, and a high quality of life. We’re sharing insights on how aging can impact your teeth and airway and what you can do to help keep your mouth healthy and strong in this new phase of life.
What Happens to Teeth When We Age?
Even with the best of care, you cannot prevent your teeth from aging right alongside you. You only get one set of teeth to last you for your entire adult life and they are not exactly an underused resource. Unless you consume an all-liquid diet (which still impacts your teeth in other ways), you’ll chew an average of three meals a day, 365 days a year, for the entirety of your life. Add on clenching your jaw, grinding your teeth, injuries, cavities, and gum disease and your teeth have their work cut out for them from day one. As we age, we become more vulnerable to oral health issues:
- Loss of bone density can lead to loosened teeth
- Gum tissue loosens and recedes, creating pockets for bacteria to thrive
- Reduced saliva increases the chances of infection, sores, gum disease, thrush, and cavities
- Risk of cavities increases
- Oral cancer risk increases
What You Can Do About It
There is a lot you can do to limit the impact aging has on your teeth, starting with the same instructions we followed all the way back when we had our first baby teeth pop through.
- Limit sweets and acidic foods
- Brush your teeth at least two times a day with a fluoride toothpaste
- Eat a healthy diet
- Floss regularly
- Visit your dentist twice a year for cleanings, check-ups, and oral cancer screening
- Stop using tobacco (or do not start up the habit)
These steps can go a long way toward helping your teeth stay strong through all the strenuous tasks we put them through.
How Does Aging Affect Your Airway?
Your airway is part of your oral health and aging has an impact on your airway, too. And, just like our teeth, it can influence the rest of our bodily health. Airway issues like obstructive sleep apnea have been linked to an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease, not to mention diabetes, heart disease, memory loss, poor concentration, and other chronic health conditions. Older adults sleep less than their younger peers and they need those reduced hours to be packed with quality, rejuvenating sleep that helps them function to the best of their ability in their daily lives.
What You Can Do About It
Your dentist can also be an ally in fighting the impact of aging on your airway. If you are experiencing exhaustion, poor concentration, poor memory function, irritability or depression, it might be worth determining if you have a sleep disorder caused by an airway issue.
- Schedule an appointment to have your airway assessed
- Consider the benefits of an at-home sleep study
- Check out options for non-intrusive devices that improve airflow
- Check out options for more invasive airway support such as CPAP
Dental Care for Loved Ones Who Need Extra Help
If you have a loved one who is bedridden or stricken with a disease like Alzheimer’s, they will rely on you to ensure they maintain their oral health. The comorbidities that come with having a degenerative disease often overshadow the importance of dental health. However, the dangers of gum disease, infections or airway issues do not disappear. In fact, they can even worsen symptoms behind the scenes. Poor dental health can:
- Cause sufferers to limit eating, leading to malnutrition
- Worsen the impact of conditions like diabetes
- Increase the likelihood of heart issues
- Increase the likelihood of bacterial pneumonia, an extremely dangerous condition for elderly adults
If you have an elderly loved one who needs extra help, make sure you include routine brushing and cleaning in their care plan. Help your loved one brush their teeth twice a day and floss regularly, if you’re the caregiver. Taking them in for routine check-ups is also important. It is also very important to ask senior living facilities about how they care for residents’ teeth. If they do not have a dental strategy, find out what they can do to accommodate you. Dental health is not a minor concern. Getting your loved one proper care can improve quality and longevity of life.
Empowering You to Protect Your Oral Health
Sierra Smiles can help you maintain a healthy smile as you age, whether that is routine dental care, support for partials or dentures, or care for a chronic airway issue. We want you to have the best quality of life possible as you ease into older adulthood and begin to reap the benefits of all your hard work. Schedule an appointment today and we’ll help you establish a healthy mouth baseline and a plan for caring for your teeth and airway.