Aging and Oral Health: Part I

At East Portland Dentistry, we think it’s a sure bet that our patients don’t want to wind up putting their teeth in a cup before bed. Thus, Dr. Joy Arend your choice for family dentist in East Portland, is delighted to get the word out that edentulism, the condition of being toothless, has declined since the late 1950’s from nearly 20 percent of older adults to less than 5 percent. That’s encouraging news for those of us who have earned a slot in the “older adults” demographic (which, by the way, will soon reach an historical high).

The Challenges That Aging Bring To Oral Health

But before we do a little jig, the dental team at East Portland Dentistry wants to make sure that our current and future patients know the unique challenges that aging brings to oral health. (This blog is the first of a series that will address issues relating to aging and dental care.) Because older adults are often subject to diseases and disorders, they tend to take numerous medications. While physicians and pharmacists are careful to avoid potential adverse drug reactions, warnings about how medications (and multiple medication regimens) affect oral health are rarely addressed outside of dental offices. At East Portland Dentistry, we urge our patients to inform our dentists of all medications they take and of all ailments they suffer. Why? Because systemic and oral health are very much intertwined; heart disease and diabetes, especially, impact oral health and vice versa. Dr. Joy Arend supports patients’ whole health by communicating with patients’ physicians or specialists in order to ensure that treatment is appropriate.

Dry Mouth Is Side-effect in over 500 medications

Because a healthy body needs a healthy mouth, the dental team at East Portland Dentistry will examine older adults who take numerous medications for xerostomia, commonly known as dry mouth. Dry mouth is not part of the normal aging process. Rather, certain medications decrease saliva production. Dry mouth is a noted side-effect in over 500 medications, including those for Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases. People who take more than four prescription drugs daily are especially prone to xerostomia. Saliva neutralizes acid in the mouth and cleans teeth and gums.

When the salivary glands do not produce enough saliva, the mouth is highly susceptible to infection, sores, tooth decay, and gum disease. Dry mouth is a common cause of cavities in older adults. Xerostomia affects 30 percent of adults ages 65 or older and 40 percent of adults over 80. Certainly, xerostomia is a concern for older patients; therefore, the dentists and hygienists at East Portland Dentistry will discuss this condition with patients and will provide oral health care tips to prevent or treat dry mouth.

Preventive Measures You Can Take

Even if older patients have no symptoms of xerostomia, we recommend taking simple preventive measures. First, consume plenty of water. The mouth needs constant lubrication, and water is the ideal source. Second, avoid consumption of coffee, carbonated soft drinks, alcohol, and acidic fruit juices as such beverages exacerbate dry mouth. Third, chew sugar-free gum or suck on sugar-free lozenges in order to increase the production of saliva. Fourth, use mouthwash or over-the-counter oral moisturizers to keep the mouth lubricated. Finally, keep moisture in the air by using a humidifier. Following these tips can help prevent or treat xerostomia, resulting in a healthier mouth. At East Portland Dentistry, we promote easily manageable self-care so that our patients can keep their teeth in their mouths, not in a cup by the bedside table.

Stay tuned for the next segment in our informative series on aging and oral health.