Dental or oral health is an oft-neglected aspect in India. Brushing twice a day, rinsing after eating, getting regular check-ups done, etc. are not as common as they should be. Most often people end up at a dentist’s place only when in it is unavoidable.
Also, dental treatment in India is expensive; hence, most people try to avoid it as much as possible. A simple consultation starts from Rs. 500 and cleaning, extraction, root canal, caps, etc. cost much more. Dental implants are not easily affordable by most. Unless one has specifically sought insurance that covers dental treatment, the costs will easily burn a hole in your pocket. Hence, there is a reluctance to approach dental clinics.
But the fact is that geriatric dentistry is a matter of concern that needs attention in India. One survey conducted on the topic found that 48% of the people studied had very poor oral health. Only 19% of the subjects had excellent oral health with the rest falling in-between. Typical issues seen among the elderly in India are caries, periodontal disease, and tooth loss. Some other health conditions and medications can lead to dental issues and vice versa as well. Hence, it is essential to understand why we need to pay attention to dental health.
Some common dental issues
Poor dental health usually leads to problems in chewing and eating, leading to nutritional issues. Some diseases and their medications can lead to less salivary flow which also affects eating habits and digestion. High-sugar diets affecting the teeth, alcohol or tobacco use, improper hygiene or not caring for dentures properly, etc. are other common issues affecting senior dental health.
There is also the cosmetic aspect that can put pressure on seniors. When you get older, the facial muscles may weaken, tooth loss can make you look different or older, etc. Changes occur to not just teeth, but lip curves, and the mucosal lining of the mouth, tongue, gums, and jawbones. One may lose the sense of taste etc. leading to less intake again.
A common problem seen in seniors which are often ignored is dry mouth. This is a result of some medical conditions and related medicines. Medicines like antihistamines, decongestants, anti-anxiety meds or hypertension medicines, painkillers, etc., can cause this problem. A dry mouth in turn leads to cavities. Iron deficiency can cause burning mouth syndrome. Enamel thinning and gum disease called periodontal disease are also commonly seen in seniors.
Gum diseases increase your risk of heart diseases and can make certain heart conditions worse. Gum diseases are also said to affect the blood sugar levels of a person. So, the dental visit that we have been putting off may be causing us more harm than we thought. Older adults with poor dental health are also at higher risk of developing bacterial pneumonia.
Untreated dental issues can cause oral abscesses in seniors that can even turn quite serious as their immune systems are weakened. Improper dental hygiene leading to bacterial accumulation can even cause strokes and life-threatening complications. Therefore, overall, for good health, it is important to maintain oral hygiene and avail of good dental services periodically. Even if we feel that it is expensive, it just may save us a lot of trouble and health issues.
Some General Tips
Here are simple tips to follow for good dental health.
- Brush your teeth twice a day with a dentist-recommended brush and paste. This recommendation is to ensure that if your teeth need some special care, that is being taken care of.
- Rinse your mouth using mouth rinses or normal water after eating or drinking anything.
- Use dental flosses, if you have been advised to do so.
- Replace the toothbrush every three to four months.
- If using dentures, clean them also properly as suggested by the doctor and follow all procedures.
- Carry your medication list when visiting a dentist, so they can make out if any of your medications are causing your dental issues.
- Visit a dental professional at least twice a year for a check-up.
- If you feel any sensitivity, change of taste, swelling, bleeding, etc. kindly the dentist without delay.
- Avoid self-medicating for tooth issues as there are times when home remedies have complicated matters.
A little change in our approach to dental health can help us stay healthier and happier overall.