In a new study, researchers found oral health is a critical component to overall health for all ages, but it is especially critical for the elderly.
The research was conducted by dental and medical experts from UConn Health.
In the study, the authors outline the potential complications that can arise from poor oral hygiene in older adults and cite the role of all health care professionals in working to promote good oral hygiene.
Data from the National Center for Health Statistics indicates that the prevalence of cavities is more than twice as high in older adults than younger adults.
The prevalence of periodontitis—a serious gum infection that damages the soft tissue and destroys the bone that supports your teeth—also increases with age.
As many as 64% of older adults in the U.S. have periodontitis.
Periodontitis is associated with a variety of medical conditions including cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
Patients with replacement heart valves and prosthetic joints should be particularly careful regarding their oral hygiene.
It is well known that manipulation of teeth and their support structures can result in bacteria present in the oral cavity being released into the bloodstream, which may lead to infections in parts of the body far removed from the oral cavity.
Without good oral hygiene, the use of fluoride, and regular dental care, older adults are more prone to damage to the oral cavity and the extension of infection into surrounding tissues.
Even toothbrushing for those who have poor oral hygiene can cause bacteria to be released into the bloodstream and these bacteria can potentially cause joint infections and heart valve infections.
In addition, tooth loss can affect a person’s ability to chew, which can lead to malnutrition.
Chronic oral infection is a recognized risk factor for heart disease, and can also lead to the spread of infection to artificial joints and endocardial implants.
The team says all health care professionals should work to promote good oral hygiene for their older patients.
They should consider an oral examination during an annual wellness visit, especially for those patients who are not receiving regular dental care.
The experts recommend that all older adults should have biannual dental cleaning performed by a hygienist and a biannual oral health assessment by their dentist.
The lead author of the study is Dr. Patrick Coll, professor of family medicine and medicine.
The study is published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.
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