Keeping HK seniors healthy – understand the importance of dental care
Healthy habits and medical care are of paramount importance, particularly for the elderly and their caregivers. You might be diligent about dispensing medication on time, keeping doctor’s appointments, nutritional planning, and more. However, oral health is all too commonly overlooked. Dr Titania Tong sees patients of all ages at her Central, HK practice, and she strives to educate families about the importance of senior dental care.
Dangerous myths about tooth loss
More than 60 percent of adults age 65 and older believe that tooth loss is a normal and expected part of aging, according to a Hong Kong Department of Health population-wide survey. In reality, tooth loss is caused by injury or (nearly always preventable) oral disease. Seniors do face unique oral health challenges. However, with good dental care and hygiene habits, it is possible – and likely – that anyone can keep his or her natural teeth for life.
Sadly, the myth of inevitable tooth loss tends to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. When you feel doomed to lose your teeth anyway, it seems pointless to keep caring for them, and neglect leads to oral disease. If tooth loss does occur, another dangerous myth comes into play, which is the idea that someone with false teeth no longer needs dental care. However, care and maintenance of restorations, prevention of infection, and other dental services are as important now as ever.
Aging effects on oral health
Anyone at any age can develop dental problems, but seniors are particularly susceptible for several reasons. Dr Tong customizes treatments and preventive care to the needs of each patient, as well as offering advice and guidance.
Areas of particular concern for older adults include:
- Dry mouth – This occurs when the body produces insufficient saliva, which happens more often with age. It is also a side effect of some prescriptions. Saliva aids in chewing, swallowing, digestion, tooth remineralization, and general oral health.
- Hygiene challenges – Cognitive disorders can make someone forget to brush and floss, while restricted movement can make it difficult to accomplish these tasks effectively. Therefore, conditions such as arthritis of the hands or Alzheimer’s can have a significant, although indirect, impact on oral health.
- Denture-induced stomatitis – Characterized by redness, swelling and soreness of tissue, stomatitis is an inflammatory condition that can affect various areas of the mouth. When it develops under a denture, the cause is likely an ill-fitting or poorly cleaned appliance.
- Uneven bite – Teeth wear down, and sometimes unevenly. Gum and bone tissue may lessen, especially after tooth loss. Some people don’t have maintained appointments to adjust appliances as needed, or they might not even replace lost teeth. These and other factors can impact the bite, possibly leading to tooth damage, jaw pain, or even TMJD (temporomandibular joint disorder).
Beyond the mouth – how dental disease affects the body
The ability to chew effectively, smile confidently, and live without oral pain is certainly a compelling reason to see a dentist regularly. However, it is not the only reason. Oral disease and infection can have far-reaching implications, putting an individual at greater risk for many medical problems.
Some of the conditions that have been linked to periodontal disease and other oral problems include:
- Coronary and vascular diseases – Many different research studies have linked periodontal disease with stroke, high cholesterol, heart attack, and other heart conditions.
- Alzheimer’s and dementia – A growing body of research shows a connection between oral disease and these conditions, including a recent small study that found bacteria associated with periodontitis in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients.
- Pneumonia – The mouth is host to millions of bacteria (both good and bad), some of which are carried to the lungs when we breathe. In a healthy person, the number of harmful bacteria is low, and the immune system normally prevents it from growing in the lungs. However, people with oral disease have a high number of harmful bacteria, and ill or elderly individuals may have weakened immune systems.
- Digestive difficulties – We tend to think that digestion happens in the stomach, but it actually begins in the mouth. When oral pain, missing teeth, poor alignment, or other dental problems prevent proper chewing, then we are swallowing larger particles, which are not digested as easily. Additionally, people often alter their diets or avoid eating if chewing becomes too challenging.
We know that you want the best for your family, and your own smile – and so do we. It is never too soon, or too late, to begin great dental care. Just call Dr Tong at 852 2810 1801 and schedule an appointment.