“Good oral health still means regular brushing, flossing, being careful what we drink and eating healthy foods.” – Dr Naser Albarbari
Good – or bad – oral health can have a surprising effect on your overall health. Poor oral health, including tooth decay, gum disease, infections and chronic inflammation, has been linked to major diseases such as cardiovascular disease. Diseases such as diabetes can lower the body’s resistance to infection and create or worsen oral health problems.
Health experts say that on a more everyday level, poor oral health can result in eating difficulties, poor nutrition, speech problems, facial pain and discomfort, and low self-esteem.
Dr Naser Albarbari, an oral surgeon and the Chief of Clinical Dental Services at Australian Unity, says taking care of the teeth, gums and mouth, is something that we can tackle in a variety of ways and is even more important as we get older.
“The same techniques recommended when you are five years old still apply when you are 65 or older,” he says.
“Good oral health still means regular brushing, flossing, being careful what we drink and eating healthy foods. With visits to the dentist, the difference may be the frequency. Just as most people need to see the doctor more frequently as they age, so you may need to visit the dentist two to three times a year rather than just once.”
How things change – and what we can do
Dr Albarbari explains that there are several major oral health issues as we age.
“Reduced flow of saliva is common. Saliva helps protect the teeth and gums, so reduced flow means less protection and potentially more cavities and gum disease.
“Reduced saliva flow can also be caused by an increase in the use of prescription medication, especially for depression or blood pressure.
“In this case, patients may need to consult with the prescribing doctor to see if there is an alternative. Using mouth rinses, regularly sipping water and using sugarless gum can also help with dry mouth.”
Dr Albarbari says more people are retaining their teeth as they age, but teeth experience natural wear. “Friction from eating shortens the teeth and increases the likelihood of dental decay and can cause facial pain. But good dental hygiene can minimise problems.”
“Then there’s loss of teeth. Most people will lose one or more teeth over their lives, and replacements will need to be considered. There are dentures – less popular these days – bridges and dental implants. Talk to your dentist to find the best solution.”
For some people, it becomes physically harder for them to clean their teeth, perhaps due to arthritis, dementia or illness affecting motor skills. In this case, it’s important to get help so they can maintain good oral health.
Prevention is always better than cure, so take a little extra time to care for your teeth, make sure to book in for regular check-ups – and keep smiling.
Words: Margaret Barca
Disclaimer: Information provided in this article is not medical advice and you should consult with your healthcare practitioner. Australian Unity accepts no responsibility for the accuracy of any of the opinions, advice, representations or information contained in this publication. Readers should rely on their own advice and enquiries in making decisions affecting their own health, wellbeing or interest.