Smiles Over 65: Oral Health in Your Golden Years

By Karen Weeks, Elderwellness.net

Many people mistakenly believe that missing teeth and poor oral health is simply par for the course of aging. The truth is that you can have healthy teeth and your own natural smile for a lifetime. To make this happen as you enter your retirement years, it may become necessary to pay even closer attention to your mouth. Healthy dental habits, such as brushing and flossing, are a great start, but you also need to get comfortable in the dentist’s chair.

But it Costs so Much …

One of the most pressing issues with seniors today is that dental care is expensive. And those with original Medicare are left to foot the entire bill when their teeth and gums are on the line. There is good news, however, in that you have choices when it comes to your Medicare coverage. Medicare Advantage plans from companies like Humana offer comprehensive health care coverage, and the majority of these private Medicare policies provide a wide assortment of dental benefits. And considering that your oral health can affect other aspects of your well-being, you can’t afford not to see your dentist.

Healthy Habits

If you’re not brushing and flossing at least twice each day, you should. According to the American Dental Association, cleaning your teeth, or dentures, can help keep bacteria out of your mouth. And when it’s not in your mouth, you have less of a chance of it spreading throughout your body. Flossing is likewise important and is the most efficient way to remove solid food particles from between teeth. Dry mouth is a serious concern for many seniors, so you also should make a point to drink plenty of water and quit smoking.

Potential Problems

Even if you establish a healthy oral hygiene routine, there are still issues that can arise. Sensitive teeth, for example, can happen over time with wear and tear. As the enamel on the outside of your teeth wears down, they may feel discomfort when exposed to heat or cold. Enamel is extremely strong, but it can be damaged by aggressive brushing, receding gums, or an acidic or sugary diet.

Cavities also are cause for concern if you don’t make your teeth a priority. Even though your adult teeth are stronger and more able to fight off decay than baby teeth, certain medical conditions, such as arthritis, can leave you less able to give your mouth the attention it deserves. Regardless of age, untreated cavities can cause pain and can make it difficult to eat like you are supposed to.

Health Conditions Can Affect the Teeth

Taking care of your dental health is exceedingly important if you suffer with age-related medical conditions. High blood pressure and diabetes, for example, are known to cause or contribute to gum disease. Obesity and rheumatoid arthritis also are linked to the health of the soft tissues in your mouth. Surprisingly, even less serious conditions, like acid reflux, can wreak havoc on your teeth. Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can push acid from your stomach into your mouth, and this acid can quickly wear away at your teeth. Stress, depression and many autoimmune diseases also can take a toll. For these reasons, you should make a point to visit your primary care physician for a full physical every year. Between the screenings they’ll offer and your regular dental checkups, your health care team can identify health problems that affect the teeth and vice versa.

It is possible to enjoy a beautiful smile and uninterrupted eating habits throughout your entire life. But it does take work, and a commitment to whole health. If you’re concerned about money, check your Medicare plan and make sure that you are covered.

Ms. Weeks can be reached at karen@elderwellness.net.

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