Aging And Dental Care
Written by Chicagohealers.com Practitioner Dr. Kevin Boehm
How would I advise patients to care for themselves differently as they age is a rather interesting topic. As we age a vast number of changes occur metabolically, hormonally, and nutritionally. When you add various prescription medications into the mix, you introduce untoward side effects which quite often cause deleterious changes within the oral cavity.
When we start out as children our bodies know how to care for themselves inherently. For example, when we get cuts and scrapes, we produce enough enzymes to break down excess scar tissue so we heal more quickly and completely. However, with the passage of time, our bodies produce less and less of our own enzymes, nutrients, and energy. To that extent we need more supplementation to gain what our bodies require.
Classically, what happens orally as we age? Most people need more and more fillings due to caries or their fillings deteriorate and need replacement. Once fillings get too large the risk becomes fracturing of the teeth, which results in onlays, crowns, or extractions, if the teeth cannot be repaired. Clenching and grinding the teeth only worsen the risk of damage to the teeth. Not only does gum disease become more prevalent with age as well, but also gum recession worsens with age. More individuals are being placed on heart, depression, cancer, and diabetes related prescription drugs than ever before, and seemingly at earlier ages than before. A staggering number of these prescription drugs have side effects, the worst of which is salivary reduction as far as the oral environment is concerned. Saliva has sodium bicarbonate, antibodies, and needed minerals/vitamins which help prevent decay and gum disease. Let's take a patient on anti-depressants and anti-hypertensive medications for example. Now let's also throw clenching/grinding and arthritis, which affects her hands, into the mix. Clenching causes gum recession; arthritis makes it difficult for optimal home care to occur. Her medications cause dry mouth symptoms. The recipe for exposed root surfaces in addition to decreased salivary flow is one for massive root caries. Enamel of the teeth is fairly acid resistant, while the root surfaces are most definitely not acid resistant. Another simple example is how stress hormones affect gum disease. When individuals are stressed, our adrenal glands increase hormonal output to help the body compensate and deal with stress. However, the gum disease producing bacteria living below the gum line are stimulated by these same increased hormonal levels leading to a worsening of the gum disease state. Suffice it to say, if there is a way to reduce or eliminate your prescription drug intake, do so. If you cannot eliminate prescription drugs, you must be doubly careful about your home care.
On the hygiene front, switch to an Oral-B electric toothbrush or one of similar effectiveness. Obviously, floss your teeth, and possibly more than once daily. Rinse 1-2 times daily with an effective gum disease reducing, alcohol-free mouth rinse. Your frequency of dental check-ups may need to increase depending on your situation due to periodontal disease or decay risk. If you have extensive dental work such as fixed bridges or partial dentures, consider using super floss, which looks like a pipe cleaner, and proxybrushes for more effective cleaning around your bridges, etc. Also consider waterpiks or hydroflossers, if your manual dexterity is affected by arthritis and flossing is difficult for you. To prevent root decay, use MI paste, Soothe-Rx, or similar product. These products contain the beneficial mineral components that your tooth structure contains and are eliminated by caries producing bacteria during the decay process. The natural sugar substitute xylitol may also help reduce your decay risk factors.
Dietary issues to remember would be to limit, or better yet, eliminate your sugar intake. It is hard on your pancreas, your adrenal glands, and your immune system. Increase your CoQ10 intake through supplements. This vital nutrient is beneficial to your cardiovascular system and your gum tissue through its antioxidant properties. Increase your protein intake unless you suffer from kidney problems and have been advised to avoid high protein intake. Healthy gums also rely heavily on optimal vitamin C levels which are much higher than the USRDA of 80 mg/day. And for most individuals, their vitamin D levels tend to be low in our northern climate. Vitamin D is quite important in the fight against osteoporosis in relation to its unique ability to assist in calcium absorption and utilization within the body, which especially means the mandible and maxilla in our discussion. A simple blood test can help you determine how much supplementation of vitamin D you require.
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