According to a recent review by the Australian Dental Association, the number of adults living past the age of 65 and well into their 80’s is expected to steadily increase for at least the next 35 years. Since many of these older Australians will be expected to retain their natural teeth, the overall picture for their dental health will be more complex than in the past. Since it has been agreed that dental health can have an impact on overall health, it is essential to examine the specifics of how overall health is affected by dental health, as well as what preventive measures can be taken.
How Dental Health Impacts Overall Health
Dental health can impact overall health in seniors in the following ways:
· Poor dental health can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.
· Poor dental health can increase the risk of aspiration pneumonia.
· Poor dental health can increase the risk of nutritional deficiencies.
· Poor dental health can increase the risk of stroke.
As these are all conditions that can be extremely risky in the elderly, it is very important to preserve dental health, to help reduce the likelihood that any of these conditions develop.
Factors That Can Negatively Impact Dental Health
As people age, they are more likely to experience increased levels of pain from chronic conditions such as arthritis. Living with chronic pain can be very debilitating, and it can also interfere with one’s ability to manage regular daily tasks related to self-care. Many seniors become more isolated. Without someone to look in on them, they may experience a continued decline in their overall state of health and well-being. Cleaning their teeth may be among the regular self-care tasks that fall out of their daily routine.
Studies have demonstrated that many individuals admitted to residential care facilities have poor oral health and high incidence of oral disease. This is linked to poor oral hygiene and mouth care. As many elderly individuals are retaining more of their teeth, this also increases the likelihood that they will suffer from more dental disease.
Another factor that can negatively influence oral health is the side effects from medications, many of which can cause dry mouth. As we know, salivation is essential to helping keep the mouth clean and bacteria free. Decreased moisture in the mouth can lead to more tooth decay and other infections.
Poor access to dental facilities can also contribute to dental problems in the aging population. As most aging Australians are living independently, they require access to affordable, preventive care. Even though the majority of them hold concession cards and are eligible for public dental care, there are long waits for these services, and that means that dangerous dental conditions will develop in the interim waiting period.
What Needs to Happen?
Better planning is needed, on the part of older adults, their families and others who are caring for them. There needs to be an integrated effort between their dental care providers and their general medical providers. This effort must include workers at residential facilities as well as all of those service providers who work with the aging population. Finally, there needs to be more funding for dental services for older Australians, to help prevent serious diseases and complications from occurring.
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