Dealing with Gum Disease as a Senior

Gum disease is not that uncommon, especially in aging people. Do you know that one in five Americans over the age of 65 suffer from untreated gum problems and tooth decay? When these are left untreated, the teeth can become painful, broken, or loose. It becomes harder to eat and may even cause changes in physical appearance.

We are fortunate now because adults are less likely to lose teeth and develop gum disease as they age. But still, it is essential to remember that both conditions are still prevalent and remain as a risk for older adults. It’s not something to smile about, but you can still do a lot to keep your mouth looking and feeling younger.

What is gum disease?

Gum disease develops due to an infection on the gums. When plaque builds up at the base of the tooth, an infection can begin to grow beneath the gum line. Once it is left untreated, it can cause permanent damage to the gums over time, and may even result in loss of teeth.

There are two primary types of gum disease: gingivitis and periodontitis. Gingivitis is a milder condition, which may not pose any discomfort or noticeable symptoms. Periodontitis is the severe type of gingivitis that develops when gingivitis goes untreated.

Dangers of gum disease for seniors

The risk for gingivitis and periodontitis becomes higher as you age, so it is important to see your dentist regularly. If gum disease is untreated, it can lead to bone loss around the teeth. A lot of seniors lose their teeth due to gum disease. Loss of teeth is often compensated with dentures and implants, but these come with high expense and potentially painful procedures.

Gum disease can also cause other health problems in seniors. If you have a weakened immune system, the bacteria in the mouth can travel and cause risks for other parts of the body. Untreated gum disease can increase the risk of stroke or heart disease, and it also worsens diabetes. In some cases, tooth infection and gum disease can also lead to the infection of the heart’s lining.

Causes of gum disease

Before you can effectively treat gum disease, you have to know what causes it. As mentioned earlier, gum disease is caused by the buildup of plaque that usually results from poor oral hygiene. This is why brushing at least once a day and flossing regularly become essential.

When you age, there are other factors that can cause gum disease besides plaque and tartar. These include:

  • Aging
  • Smoking
  • Genetics
  • Diabetes
  • Parkinson’s’ disease
  • Anemia
  • Cancer or AIDS
  • Vitamin C deficiency
  • Hormonal changes in women
  • Poorly aligned teeth
  • Poorly fitted dentures or bridges
  • Medications that reduce the production of saliva, causing dry mouth
  • Medications that cause abnormal overgrowth of gum tissue, making proper oral hygiene more difficult

Risk factors for gum disease

For older adults and seniors, there are some things that can put you at greater risk of tooth and root decay:

  • Receding gums

As people age, gums can recede. This sign of aging can expose the root surfaces of the teeth, leaving them vulnerable to plaque and bacteria that cause mouth diseases.

  • Limited mobility and dexterity

Some seniors, especially those in well-advanced ages, experience limited mobility, dexterity, and other health challenges that create obstacles to observe proper oral hygiene. A lot of them stay at home and taking them to a dental office or treatment becomes tedious work. In some cases, a senior may need a caregiver if there’s no one at home to help maintain daily self-care.

  • Dry mouth

Caused by a reduced saliva flow, dry mouth is more likely to be experienced by seniors as a side effect of certain medications. Saliva doesn’t just play a role in digestion; it also helps protect teeth from bacteria. Having less saliva in the mouth can put a person at increased risk for cavities. Drying of the mouth is a side effect of cancer treatments and hundreds of other medications. It causes bad breath, difficulty in eating and swallowing, leading to infection and irritation of oral tissues.

Symptoms of gum disease

Around 20 percent of individuals have undiagnosed gum disease. The sooner your gum disease is diagnosed, the easier the treatment. When you keep the condition progressing, the more difficult it becomes to treat.

Here are some of the symptoms you can look out for to alert you that you may have gum disease:

  • Swollen, red gums
  • Tender, bleeding gums (particularly when you brush)
  • Sensitive teeth
  • Painful chewing
  • Loose teeth
  • Chronic bad breath
  • Receding gum line
  • Change in the fit of partial dentures
  • Gum disease can also cause conditions that make an impact on other parts of the body:
  • Bones and connective tissues break down as a result of bacterial toxins
  • Developing or worsening cardiovascular disease
  • Increased glucose levels in the blood due to oral infections, making diabetes harder to control

Gum disease treatment

There are many treatment options for seniors with gum disease that can help manage the condition and minimize damage. The kind of treatment you need depends on the type of damage that needs to be corrected. It pays to visit your dentist at least twice a year for a regular check-up and cleaning appointments.

If you already have gingivitis, you may need to visit your dentist more, usually every three to four months for a professional cleaning. The dentist can perform deep cleaning or scaling and root planing, to thoroughly clean out the plaque and tartar buildup from teeth. Remember, clean teeth means less risk for gum disease.

Your dentist may prescribe medication as part of gum disease treatment. Double-check and consult it first with your physician or doctor if you are taking other treatments for other diseases.

If you already have severe gum disease, a dentist may recommend a flap surgery or bone and tissue grafts. If the dentist tells you to undergo extensive dental or medical treatment, you may want to get a second opinion before pushing through. Find another dentist or periodontist around your area to check.

Gum disease prevention tips

Prevention is always better than cure. You don’t need to undergo extensive surgery or expensive procedures if you’ll be good at taking care of your oral health. Here are several ways to reduce your chance of getting gum disease as you age:

1. Know the right brushing technique

Ask your dentist about the proper technique to use when brushing. Brushing right is important to your oral health. A way to reduce your chances of developing gum disease is to brush at a 45-degree angle to the gums and brush and do circular movements.

2. Visit the dentist regularly

Visiting your dentist twice a year can do your mouth good. Having regular cleanings and check-ups allow your dentist and hygienist to thoroughly remove plaque and tartar from your teeth, reducing your chance of developing gum disease.

3. Brush your teeth at least twice a day using fluoride toothpaste

You must brush your teeth every day, no lesser than twice a day. Use fluoride toothpaste because it can help prevent tooth decay and strengthen enamel.

4. Make it a habit to floss your teeth every day

A lot of people do not floss regularly, but this is a habit that must be done every day. Brushing cannot remove the plaque stuck on your teeth, but flossing can. If you are experiencing trouble using floss, consult your dentist, and they will recommend alternatives for you.

5. Use mouthwash

An antimicrobial mouth rinse can help remove bacteria in the mouth that causes plaque and gum disease.

6. Stop bad habits

Smoking and eating a lot of foods rich in sugar can help prevent gum disease.