Quality of Life

Bonnie Rinkels | 11.03.2014

Quality of Life

In the words of the former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, “You are not healthy without good oral health.” Oral health problems can cause pain and suffering and make speaking, chewing and swallowing difficult. Pain from oral disease can restrict normal activities of daily life and disturb sleep. Oral pain is a sign of an advanced problem with your teeth or gums that requires a visit to a dentist or other oral health professional. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, 7 percent of adults 65 years and older reported tooth pain at least twice during the last 6 months.

Untreated oral disease can lead to abscesses and ulcerations that cause swelling, bleeding and pain and eventually lead to tooth loss. Tooth loss may also affect speech, which can lead older adults to isolate themselves due to lower self-esteem or to hide the fact that they have problems with their teeth. In addition to causing social problems, untreated oral health problems can also lead to other health issues, including an increased risk of stroke and heart attack.

Eating healthy foods becomes increasingly difficult for older adults with oral health problems, which includes missing teeth, poorly fitting dentures, cavities, gum disease or infection. Pain and difficulty chewing force people to choose softer, easier to chew foods. These foods are often high in saturated fats and cholesterol and lacking nutrients, especially when compared to fresh fruits and vegetables, which are healthier but harder to chew.

The good news is that poor oral health is largely preventable. Regular visits to a dentist or hygienist can prevent many oral health problems and treat cavities and other oral health issues before they start to cause pain. Fluoride treatments, whether done by a dentist or at home with a fluoride rinse, can help strengthen teeth and prevent decay, as can antimicrobial rinses, which are prescribed by a dentist. Practicing good oral healthcare at home is also essential, including brushing twice daily, flossing every day and eating healthy foods. Tobacco use can cause multiple oral health issues as well, including oral cancer, so stopping any cigarette or smokeless tobacco use is very important for improved oral health.

In addition to impacting physical quality of life, oral health problems can cause financial hardships for many older adults due to lack of dental insurance. More older adults are paying for more services out-of-pocket, which is especially difficult for those who are retired and living on fixed incomes. Older adults and caregivers can find resources for access to affordable dental care through the toothwisdom.org Find Care page—just click on your state to get started.
Good oral health is essential to healthy aging and with regular preventative care both at home and through dental professionals, all older adults can have a healthy mouth.