As we age, it only makes sense that we become more focused on actively engaging in the type of healthy lifestyle choices that will enable us to fully enjoy our golden years. However, even some of the most health conscious patients that visit Dr. Feldmanis at our general dentistry in Eugene fail to properly understand the important connection that exists between our oral and overall health.
Our bodies operate under a complex system where problems in one area often impact another. We can see an example of this type of cause and effect when we examine the role oral health plays in increasing our risk for a variety of chronic illnesses. Studies have found compelling links that show individuals dealing with gum disease, tooth decay, and tooth loss have a significantly higher risk for developing such illnesses as heart disease, diabetes, dementia, and even cancer.
As researchers continue to explore what connects gum and tooth health to heart disease, stroke, arthritis, and other chronic health conditions, it’s become clear that seniors wanting to protect their long-term health need to make their oral health just as big a priority as their cardiovascular or cognitive health.
Age and Our Oral Health
As we age, we naturally have a higher risk for certain types of health problems than when younger. However, the current state of our oral health can further exacerbate our risk for certain types of health problems when older. Let’s take a look at a few of the ways poor oral health during our senior years can negatively impact our health.
Poor Nutrition. While not a certainty, tooth loss becomes more likely the older we become. When tooth loss occurs, it makes it more difficult to eat than before, especially if multiple teeth are lost and not replaced by an oral device, such as dentures or dental implants.
For many seniors dealing with tooth loss, they begin to substitute softer foods that are easier to consume into their diets. Unfortunately, many types of softer foods, such as white bread, Jell-O, and soup, don’t offer the same type of nutritional value when compared to most fruits and vegetables, both of which become harder to consume when missing teeth.
As a result, many seniors fail to receive the nutritional support their bodies require. This leads many to become malnourished, and to lose an unhealthy amount of weight. In fact, one 2016 systematic review of 54 studies on senior health found that up 83 percent of seniors in the U.S. are at risk for malnutrition.
Oral Cancer: Another health concern that becomes more common with age is oral cancer. Roughly 35,000 cases of mouth, throat, and tongue cancers are diagnosed each year, according to the American Cancer Society, with the average age of the diagnosed patient being 62.
As with most types of oral health problems, the early stages of oral cancer are typically painless. This means that dentists are often the ones most likely to first detect the early signs of oral cancer, which typically include white or reddish patches, open sores in the mouth, and changes to the lips, tongue, and lining of the mouth. Early detection of oral cancer is the key to fighting the disease, and one of the primary reasons why senior patients need to schedule regular exams with Dr. Feldmanis at our general dentistry in Eugene.
Dementia: Researchers have only started to uncover the connection that exists between poor oral health and dementia. What they do know, however, is that not only does a connection seem to exist, but that poor oral health even seems to exacerbate how quickly the disease progresses.
Currently, one in three seniors die with Alzheimer’s disease or some other form of dementia. The older we become, the higher our risk for dementia. The fact that tooth loss and gum disease also become more prevalent as we age isn’t loss on researchers when noticing the connection that links these seemingly disparate conditions.
General Dentistry in Eugene Matters
At any age, regular dental care, along with daily brushing and flossing, ranks as the primary defense we have to help protect our oral health. Regular exams and cleanings with Dr. Feldmanis and her staff can prevent the spread of the dental decay and disease most responsible for causing the tooth loss and gum disease that increases our risk for systemic disease.
While oral care often gets pushed aside for seniors, more and more research is showing that dental care needs to remain of paramount importance, no matter our age.