The Effects of Aging on Oral Health

By on August 23, 2018

Getting older is a gift. Sadly, some friends and relatives have not made it this far, and we are ever mindful to be grateful for each new day. Yet, the gift of aging can also seem like a curse at times: the aches, pains, stiffness and senior moments remind us that we are not the spring chickens we once were. One particularly vulnerable body part is the mouth. From oral malodor and gingivitis, to dry mouth and oral sores during cancer treatments, the aging oral cavity can present challenges to one’s confidence, physical comfort and well-being. 

Bad breath, or oral malodor, is unpleasant and difficult to be around. Besides being embarrassing, it can diminish self-esteem and undermine intimacy. Consuming sugar and refined carbohydrates, along with drinking coffee and soda, can create an acidic environment that fosters the growth of foul-smelling, sulfur-producing bacteria. Add tooth decay, food impaction, faulty restorations and ill-fitting or uncleaned dentures and you’ve got the perfect storm for some serious smells.

According to the research, only about 10% of oral malodor cases stem from an illness or disease outside the oral cavity. Nearly 90% is attributable to gingivitis, periodontitis, and a coated tongue resulting from inadequate oral hygiene. It follows that regular dental care, vigilant oral hygiene, and the use of oral rinses play a significant role in preventing and overcoming this affliction. 

Another oral malady affecting those over 50 is xerostomia, or dry mouth. Without adequate saliva flow to keep oral tissues moist and clean, not only is bad breath a problem, but gingivitis ensues. Whether the result of smoking, snoring, drinking alcohol, taking medications, an illness or cancer treatments, a lack of moisture in the mouth causes formidable challenge. 

People with xerostomia may complain of a dry or sore throat, difficulty speaking, eating, swallowing and tasting. They often cannot tolerate spicy, dry and crunchy foods and may experience cotton mouth, cracked lips, hoarseness and difficulty wearing dentures. Almost all lament the need for increased water intake and numerous trips to the restroom! 

Xerostomia afflicts nearly 20% of the population with a higher incidence among the elderly. While not directly due to aging, it hits the senior community hard because so many are taking prescription medications. Shockingly, more than 400 medications have been cited as potentially causing dry mouth including antidepressants, diuretics, sedatives, allergy and blood pressure medications and NSAIDS like ibuprofen and naproxen.

Another oral affliction that seniors may encounter is oral mucositis, or mouth sores. Manifesting as red or pus-filled sores along the gums, tongue and inside the cheeks and lips, oral mucositis plagues many patients undergoing cancer treatment. This common side effect of chemotherapy and/or radiation can make chewing and swallowing painful to nearly impossible. Oral mucositis can compromise nutrition and hydration, prevent restorative sleep, diminish mental outlook and compromise quality of life. Worse yet, it can lead to secondary infections, hospitalization, interrupted treatment schedules and reduced dosages that can undermine patient prognosis.

There are presently no medications that prevent oral mucositis. Being vigilant with oral care is key. Brushing often with a soft-bristle toothbrush and low-abrasive toothpaste, flossing gently after meals, scraping the tongue and using a gentle, effective oral rinse after and in-between meals are common-sense strategies.

Unfortunately, many commercially available mouth rinses contain alcohol and other additives that can irritate a sensitive or already inflamed mouth. Others temporarily discolor the teeth and gums while inhibiting cells needed for healing. Some rinses reduce bacteria but offer little for dry mouth or vice versa Most simply mask oral malodor rather than addressing it at its source.

One oral health product line that is increasingly being recommended by registered dental hygienists and oncology nurses is ClōSYS. Awarded the American Dental Association (ADA) Seal for reduction of bad breath, it may also be a safe and effective choice for alleviating xerostomia, reducing gingivitis and relieving oral mucositis. At least that is what many patients affirm.

68-year-old Gloria, D. reports, ‘I used to have gum infections that were painful and upsetting. My gums were constantly swollen, and I had to go for scaling and planing procedures frequently. Three years ago, my dentist recommended the ClōSYS toothpaste and rinse. I liked that they were gentle and kept my mouth fresh.” Gloria attested that her previous pocket depths of 7’s, 8’s and 9’s are now 2’s and 3’s. “I put my grandkids on these products since gum disease runs in the family. Maybe I can prevent them from having to endure all the pain I went through.”

A 58-year-old breast cancer patient, Alex F., developed mouth sores 5 days after beginning chemotherapy treatment. “The sores made it so hard to eat. I endured the pain of eating only to maintain my stamina,” she recalls. “My oncology nurse told me about ClōSYS, and I began brushing my teeth 3-4 times a day and rinsing between brushings. I soon noticed fewer sores that healed more quickly. Eventually, I could chew and swallow without pain. My mood improved and so did my determination to beat the cancer.”

65-year-old nurse and lab technician, Gloria P, was prone to dry mouth.  Stress and anxiety aggravated it and wearing a mouth guard at night made it even worse.  “I tried Biotene, but it didn’t work for me. I discovered a dental protocol that included the ClōSYS products and they are now my Gold Standard. There is nothing better for seniors with dry mouth.” Gloria also shared that she got her son started on ClōSYS because of the horrendous breath caused by esophageal reflux disorder, or GERD. “ClōSYS neutralizes the acids and eliminates the sulfur compounds. It has turned him around.”

The aging process presents its fair, or unfair, share of challenges. Among them are the degenerative changes to the oral cavity brought on by lifestyle factors, genetics, disease processes and medications.  “You have to engage in extreme oral hygiene,” says 80-year-old cancer survivor, Frank S.  Rosina E, 95 and going strong, adds, “Aging is not for sissies. At my age, it’s a full-time job.” These wise words reflect a common sentiment: you have to accept responsibility for your health. You have to take good care of your mouth. For many seniors, ClōSYS makes that job a little easier.

 

Dr. Alisa Cooper is a chiropractor; clinical nutritionist and certified EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques) practitioner with over 25 years of experience helping others achieve and maintain optimal health and wellbeing. Dr. Cooper’s informative health presentations, books, articles and blogs empower others to embrace vibrant, joyful living. Dr. Cooper maintains a private practice while writing and speaking on a sundry of topics and trends in healthcare today.  

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The Effects of Aging on Oral Health