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Age Strong! Live Long: Oral Health and Older Americans

May is Older American’s Month. In celebration of this year's theme, "Age Strong! Live Long" I ask all my readers – Have you had a dental health check up this year?

As you can see from this chart, the oral health of older adults is getting better. Good oral health makes life better – it helps us speak, smile, smell, taste, chew, and swallow - and it keeps us looking younger! Preventable oral diseases – tooth decay (cavities), gum disease, and oral cancer - cause unnecessary pain and disability for millions each year.

We think of tooth decay (cavities) as a problem for children and adolescents. But older adults also get cavities too. This can be treated.

It is more likely that older adults experience periodontal or gum disease –gums get puffy and bleed, teeth become loose, chewing is difficult or painful, and food choices get softer and less nutritious. Tooth loss is not necessarily a part of aging. Gum disease is an infection caused by bacteria that gets under the gum tissue and begins to destroy the gums and bone. If you catch this early, it can be treated. But, if you ignore the symptoms and do nothing, you may loose teeth.

Another reason to have puffy and bleeding gums checked out is that gum disease may also be connected to other health problems such as diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. If you have any of these symptoms, talk to your dentist or physician.

Getting an oral cancer screening each year is another good reason to see your dentist. Every day hundreds of people are diagnosed with an oral cancer; 1 person dies every hour of every day from oral cancer. A screening is easy and painless; survival rates improve with early detection.

Make following guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control part of your daily routine.
  1. Drink fluoridated water and use fluoride toothpaste. This is good protection against tooth decay at all ages.
  2. Brushing and flossing every day reduces bacteria under the gum tissue and helps prevents periodontal disease. US News and World Report says flossing is one of 10 health habits that help you live to 100. A New York University study showed daily flossing reduced the amount of gum-disease-causing bacteria in the mouth-- bacteria that can enter the bloodstream and trigger inflammation in the arteries, a major risk factor for heart disease.
  3. Visit your dentist every year --to maintain the overall health of your teeth and mouth and to detect pre-cancerous or cancerous lesions early in their development.
  4. Avoid tobacco. Smokers have a 7 times greater risk of developing periodontal disease than nonsmokers. Spit tobacco also increases the risk of tooth decay. Dental researchers found that on average, 34% of the weight of pouch tobacco is some kind of simple sugar -- either glucose or sucrose!
  5. Limit alcohol. Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol is a risk factor for oral and throat cancers. Alcohol and tobacco used together are the primary risk factors for these cancers.
Oral health matters – at every stage of your life.