Group of happy senior citizens

Many people associate cavities and problems in their mouth with poor oral hygiene – or kids who eat lots of candy. What people may not realize is that oral health issues can stem from many other factors including age, diet and medication.

In a study preformed by Rutgers University, older adults are at risk for declining oral health, paired with malnutrition.

The study participants were senior citizens who were treated by the Rutgers School of Dental Medicine clinic between 2015 and 2016. By studying these senior citizens, they found that more than 25 percent of the patients studied were malnourished or at risk for malnutrition. Those individuals categorized as such had 10 to 19 teeth that needed some form of treatment.

In addition, those patients who were in the “malnourished” category, also had higher weight loss, lower caloric intake and suffered from dementia and/or depression.

“The mouth is the entry way for food and fluid intake,” said lead author Rena Zelig, director of the Master of Science in Clinical Nutrition Program at Rutgers School of Health Professions. “If its integrity is impaired, the functional ability of an individual to consume an adequate diet may be adversely impacted.”

Rutgers is preforming further studies, but Zelig concluded that the findings show that dentists are vital to identify patients with nutritional deficiencies. “Clinicians also can provide patients with referrals to Registered Dietitians and community assistance programs such as Meals on Wheels to prevent further decline in nutritional status,” she said.

In addition to malnutrition leading to dental problems, senior citizens also face several barriers with their oral health. One common cause of cavities in older adults is dry mouth. Dry mouth is not a normal part of aging, but is a side-effect of more than 500 medications, including those taken for allergies or asthma, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, pain, anxiety or depression and many more. If you make sure to tell your Asheville dentist about your medications, they can make recommendations for combatting dry mouth.

Older adults are also prone to gum or periodontal disease that is caused by unattended bacteria in plaque. One reason that older adults deal more with gum disease is because it often goes unnoticed until it becomes painful in the advanced stage. By maintaining regular visits to the dentist, gum disease can be detected and treated.

If left untreated, gum disease causes gums to pull away from the teeth and can form depend spaces called pockets where food and play can collect. Gum disease in the advanced phases can eventually lease to tooth loss when gums, bone and ligaments are destroyed.

Regardless of age, regular dental visits are very important. If you know someone who has been putting off a trip to the dentist, remind them of the risks of not caring for their oral health. You can also schedule a new patient appointment here

Arden Dental Group also provides onsite education at retirement communities for senior citizens who wish to know more. Free oral cancer and gum disease screenings are provided at these events, as well as refreshments and games. If you or someone you know lives at a local retirement community that could benefit from an education event with our doctors, please let us know!

You can read more about gum disease here.