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Northeast Delta Dental Offers Oral Health Tips for Seniors

Northeast Delta Dental reminds seniors that good oral hygiene habits can have a big impact on quality of life and overall health.

One obvious impact is the benefit of keeping one’s own teeth. Thanks to increased access to fluoridated water, advanced dental technologies, better education about good oral hygiene practices and more access to dental care, fewer seniors than ever are experiencing complete tooth loss. According to the Centers for Disease Control’s 2006 Oral Health Report Card, the percentage of seniors who had lost all of their natural teeth was 19.3 – better than the Healthy People 2010 goal of 20 percent.

The benefits of maintaining good oral health extend beyond the teeth. For instance, as many as 120 different diseases can manifest symptoms in and around the mouth and throat. Diabetes, HIV/AIDS, leukemia and Lou Gehrig’s disease, among others, may be first detected with oral manifestations. In a very real sense, a trip to the dentist could be a life-saving experience. Oral cancer screening exams are a very important part of routine dental visits.

In addition to seeing a dentist on a regular basis, it’s important for seniors to keep the following in mind:

  • Practice good oral hygiene. Brushing and flossing reduce dental plaque, which helps prevent periodontal disease.
  • When possible, drink fluoridated water; and always use fluoride toothpaste.
  • Don’t use tobacco. Smokers have a seven times greater risk of developing periodontal disease than nonsmokers. Spit tobacco containing sugar also increases the risk of dental decay1. Smokeless tobacco chemicals are linked to mouth, esophagus and stomach cancers.
  • 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, particularly in older adults.
  • Watch for side effects of common medications. Many medications, including blood pressure drugs, antidepressants, drugs to treat urinary incontinence and pain relievers, can cause a dry mouth. When a healthy flow of saliva is decreased, risks of oral disease increase2. When dry mouth cannot be avoided, people should drink plenty of water, chew sugar-free gum and avoid tobacco and alcohol. Regardless, patients should talk to their dentists about any medications they are taking.

Northeast Delta Dental administers dental benefits to over 700,000 people in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont and offers dental insurance programs for organizations of all sizes and people with no access to employer-sponsored dental benefits.

1“Oral Health for Older Americans.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Division of Oral Health, November 21, 2006.