Dental care is vitally important throughout our lives but can present us with different issues when we hit the 50plus age group. Studies have previously linked poor dental hygiene with health problems such as heart disease as a result of gum disease. A new study however has linked gum disease with dementia.
The study of 28,000 people found a link between poor dental care and an increased risk of dementia. The researchers found that having gum disease could increase the risk of developing dementia by up to 70%.
The researchers from Taiwan studied patients who suffered from chronic Periodontitis, a common gum disease and found that those with long term gum disease were 70% more likely to develop dementia during their lifetimes. It is thought that an immune reaction triggered by chronic gum disease could make its way to the brain and contribute to the development of dementia.
Scientists say that more research is needed but in the short term, good oral hygiene should be reinforced.
How can you practice a good dental regime?
If you look after your teeth, and have help from your dentist and hygienist, you will be able to keep your teeth for life. Gum disease and tooth decay can be prevented whatever your age.
This is the encouraging statement from The British Dental Health Foundation, an independent charity dedicated to improving the oral health of the public by providing free and impartial dental advice. The Foundation’s slogan is ‘Teeth are for Life’.
So what are some of the dental problems we may experience as we reach our 50s, 60s and beyond? Here, as documented by the charity, are some of the most widely experienced issues:
Receding Gums – Periodontal disease is largely responsible for receding gum tissue; this is where bacteria destroy the gum and supporting bone. The risk of periodontal disease increases with age and is a major reason why you should have regular dental checks.
What causes gum recession?
- Inadequate brushing and flossing.
- Over enthusiastic tooth brushing.
- Genetic predisposition – Studies show that 30% of the population may be predisposed to gum disease even though they have taken care of their teeth.
- Hormonal changes – Female hormone levels during the various stages of life, including menopause, can make gums more sensitive and more vulnerable to gum recession.
- Smoking – Tobacco leaves a persistent plaque on teeth.
- Grinding and clenching – This puts a huge strain on the teeth and can lead to loosening with resultant gum recession.
Treatment involves the scaling away of plaque and tartar from below the gum line. Antibiotics may also be prescribed to kill off remaining harmful bacteria. Where the condition has progressed beyond deep cleaning, gum surgery may be necessary to repair the damage.
A diet high in sugar will give a greater likelihood of tooth decay, especially where gums have already receded. This is because the exposed base of the tooth is not protected by enamel.
There are several options when it comes to filling a gap:
- Removable false tooth or teeth (dentures)
- Bridge – A fixed device which attaches to the teeth on either side of the gap, and has a false tooth attached.
- Dental implant – A small rod made from titanium which is fixed into the jawbone. It can be used to anchor one or more false teeth and is a permanent fixing.
Tips to Keep Teeth and Gums Healthy
- Thoroughly remove plaque from your teeth at least twice a day.
- Use a toothpaste containing fluoride.
- Clean in between your teeth every day with ‘interdental’ brushes or floss – if you just brush, this cleans no more than about 60 percent of the surface of your teeth.
- Brush your tongue to remove bacteria lodged on its surface.
- Cut down on food and drink containing sugar.
- Visit your dentist and hygienist regularly.
What Dental Treatments are Available on the NHS?
As stated on the NHS Choices website: “The NHS will provide any treatment that you need to keep your mouth, teeth and gums healthy and free of pain. Decisions about which treatment is appropriate for you will be based upon a clinical assessment.”
Your dentist should make it clear which treatments can be provided under the NHS, but where private options are recommended, you will be given a treatment plan setting out details. This plan must be signed by you. For further information visit:
Difficulties with Routine Dental Care
For anyone caring for the frail elderly, or for those who find it difficult to manage their dental hygiene, there are various techniques and aids to help keep on top of this very necessary routine. An initiative was launched on 3 March 2015 by the Dental Health Foundation offering advice on how to cope. Dr Nigel Carter OBE, the Chief Executive of the charity, said: “Elderly people have some very specific dental needs with many suffering from decay due to changes in saliva flow that occur with age or as a result of prescription drug use. All this occurs at a time when self-care through tooth brushing may become more difficult due to decreasing manual dexterity. It is particularly important for older people to brush their teeth last thing at night, and at least one other time during the day with fluoride toothpaste. Use of mouthwashes to help prevent plaque build-up or products specifically developed for dry mouth can also help maintain optimum oral care and prevent problems.”
For free help and advice, call the British Dental Health Foundation Helpline on 01788 539780.
Finally, if you are concerned about any of the issues raised above, don’t hesitate to speak to your dentist or even your doctor who will be able to assess your own particular situation.