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Your oral health's impact on your golden years and how to improve in the new year

Americans aged 50 and older realize the importance of oral health but aren't necessarily taking the steps to prioritize it as they should, finds a new Senior Oral Health Report from Delta Dental:  “Older Americans' Oral Care Regrets, Barriers and Impact.”

This is especially alarming as our oral health is an important part of our body’s overall health. Unfortunately, many of us don’t realize the importance of taking proper care of our teeth and gums till we are older. In fact, a majority of older adults shared they wish they had taken better care of their teeth during their younger years.

Despite this, 80 percent of older adults don't go to the dentist as often as recommended today even though they rank "not brushing and flossing more" as their third biggest regret regarding their physical health, according to the Senior Oral Health Report.

How our oral health is an indispensable part of our overall health

Our oral health and overall health are directly linked and many chronic conditions that we face as we age have implications for our oral health as well.

Findings suggest that we could be better informed on the connection of our teeth and gums to our whole-person health. In fact, many older adults are not talking to their primary care providers about their dental health nor are they talking to their dentist about their overall health or current medications. 

"Our mouth and our body are not separate entities," says Dr. Daniel Croley, Delta Dental's Chief Dental Officer. "What goes on in our mouths can impact our whole selves and vice versa. For example, inflammation of gums, which can show redness, swelling or even bleeding, can be linked to diabetes, heart disease and an increased risk of Alzheimer's disease – a fact that, according to our study, over three in five older Americans were not aware of. Because we're able to diagnose and monitor diseases through oral health care, regular visits to your dentist can help you keep those conditions and diseases in check."

Oral health’s impact on our mental health and social well-being

From worry about how others perceive us based on our smile, to smiling less than usual because of worsening oral health as we age, our teeth have an impact on how we feel about ourselves and connect with others. According to Delta Dental’s Senior Oral Health Report, two out of five older Americans smile less because of deteriorating oral health or the appearance of their teeth which can have a negative effect on mental health and quality of life.

Additionally, negative emotions and sentiments related to visiting the dentist create a cycle of oral care neglect that can have additional mental health and well-being impacts over time. Better preventive care reduces costs overtime and potentially mitigates the risk for more invasive treatments.

Next time you are at the dentist, make sure you talk about how you feel about your teeth and whether your teeth keep you from smiling or talking with others.

It’s never too late to improve

While there are many serious risks associated with poor oral health, the good news is that there are many simple things you can do to be proactive:

Adopt the rule of “2-1-2”:

  • 2 - Brush two times per day for two minutes
  • 1 - Floss at least one time a day
  • 2 - See your dentist for check-ups two times a year

Eat a well-balanced diet. Limit sugary foods. Snack on crunchy, tooth-friendly foods like apples, carrots or celery that scrape and clean teeth as you chew.

Bring your medication to your next dentist visit. This will give your dentist a good picture of your overall health. If you’re taking a medication that can cause dry mouth, your dentist will know to ask about that symptom; multiple cholesterol pills can tip them off that you’re working to get your heart health under control.

Buy time after eating. The less time any food is on your teeth, the better. After eating, rinse your mouth with water if you can’t brush right away. This prevents acid and bacteria from setting up shop in your teeth and giving you cavities.

Prioritizing our oral health, no matter our age, will improve our quality of life in numerous ways. For more expert insights to keeping your oral health in check, head over to Delta Dental’s wellness resource library.