The health of your teeth reflects your overall health
Don't neglect dental care
February 22, 2011
You've heard some version of it all your life: "Take care of your teeth and they'll take care of you." New research shows that taking care of your teeth is not just for vanity's sake. Oral health is connected to overall health. Large numbers of blood vessels lie close to the surface of the gums, where bacteria in the mouth can cross over into the bloodstream. Research has shown that diabetes, possibly heart disease, the ability to chew and access to proper nutrition are all directly connected to the condition of your teeth and gums.
Seniors face unique problems with their dental care. Health challenges such as arthritis or stroke can make thorough cleaning more difficult. Medications to treat blood pressure, thin blood or ease depression can reduce saliva that normally washes away plaque and bacteria. In a dry mouth, bacteria are left to grow, resulting in cavities even in people not previously prone to tooth decay. As gum tissue recedes from teeth, the roots can become exposed to decay-causing acids, heightening temperature sensitivity.
Dentists and hygienists say that regular visits to the dentist are especially important to help older adults avoid the cost of expensive work, such as root canals, if problems are identified early. A dentist might suggest a special mouthwash to lessen dryness, a fluoride mouthwash to keep bacteria in check or toothpaste made specifically for sensitive teeth. If health issues make teeth cleaning difficult, a dentist could suggest either an electric toothbrush or adaptations to a regular toothbrush that would make brushing easier.
Even if you only have had a few dental problems, wear dentures or do not have teeth at all, it is wise to visit your dentist at least once a year for a comprehensive oral exam. Your dentist can look for signs of oral cancer, as well as for any other oral health or medical problems.
Many dentists require payment at the time of service, so seniors sometimes put off routine dental care. Some cannot afford to pay dental insurance or out-of-pocket dental expenses. Medicare doesn't cover basic or emergency dental services. Seniors who have insurance sometimes find that dental work is not covered by their policies.
If you cannot afford regular dental care, many dentists offer their services at reduced fees through sponsored assistance programs. The Ohio Dental Association (ODA) (www.oda.org) and the Ohio Department of Health offer Dental OPTIONS (Ohio Partnership To Improve Oral health through access to Needed Services) to help Ohioans with special health care needs or financial barriers obtain dental care. Eligible patients are matched with volunteer OPTIONS dentists who have agreed to reduce fees. To apply for the OPTIONS program, you can complete an online application or call toll-free 1-888-765-6789 to receive an application. You will need to include proof of income such as a W-2 form, your latest tax return or your two most recent pay stubs.
You also can find a list of dental clinics offering services at reduced fees online at www.ohiodentalclinics.com or through the National Association of Free Clinics. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services provides federally funded clinics offering dental care.
Don't wait until your teeth hurt before you visit your dentist.
About Aging Issues
Twice each month, the Ohio Department of Aging delivers Aging Issues, a column from the Director that examines topics of interest to older Ohioans, their family members and others who care for and serve them. Aging Issues is intended for personal use as well as re-publication in newspapers, newsletters and other publications with older adults as a target audience.
Subscribe to Aging Issues...
Read older columns...
Send this page to a friend …