Dental Health and Oral Hygiene
Written by Dr. Wilson J. Kwong
We take our teeth for granted. It is only when we lose them or have pain do we ponder, “What happened?” Losing teeth can affect a person’s self-esteem and affect their overall health, however barring accidents and normal wear and tear, an intact dentition through your senior years is totally possible – with a little effort and some good direction from your dental hygienist and dentist.
Having healthy teeth and gums into our senior years is possible but it takes some work. As we age our salivary glands dry up, reducing the self-cleaning action of salivary flow. Our manual dexterity is hampered with arthritis or simply diminished with our physical breakdown. Our diet may be compromised with too many carbohydrates which tend to stick to our teeth longer, feeding the bacteria which uses our food to create acid. This acid breaks down our teeth. The increase in incidence of cavities and gum disease is quite high in our senior population which is a shame. Many dental problems seniors face are preventable; or, at least, steps can be taken to slow down that breakdown.
What you can do to prevent or slow down dental problems
Regular cleaning sessions with the dental hygienist every three or four months to keep the teeth and roots clean will help prolong the health of the teeth and with cleaner teeth comes healthier gums. Not to mention fresher breath. The hygienist will also instruct seniors on proper tools and products to use in order to that your teeth stay stronger and resistant to breakdown. One strategy is to use an electric toothbrush like the Oral-B Electric brush which rotates and cleans teeth very well. In addition, using a high fluoride content toothpaste like Prevident 5000, which hardens the teeth to acid attack, is very effective. The tools and agents are all readily available at your local pharmacy.
Foods to avoid
Seniors enjoy snacks like everyone else but healthier choices like fruits, vegetables or protein sources like a piece of chicken, are best. Stay away from candy, chocolates or cookies, all of which are delicious but cause extensive damage when the bacteria on our teeth convert the sugars in those snacks to acid.
Repair and replace missing teeth
If teeth are unfortunately lost, there will be a decrease in function and ability to chew food properly. Human beings are designed to have front and back teeth so that we can process our food efficiently when we chew and have the food go from our lips to our stomach for digestion. Losing back teeth, which is most common, means those front teeth have to work much harder. This hastens their breakdown as well. Replacing back teeth with dentures, fixed bridgework or implants allows for better function and prolongs the smile we all cherish with those front teeth.
Access to reasonably-priced dental care and free emergency dental care
Perhaps you do not have a supplemental insurance plan which covers dentistry; perhaps you find yourself unable to pay for the needed crown or implant:
Contact Reach Community Health Centre, they may be able to help you. They have a limited subsidy program for individuals and families living on social assistance and a fund to cover dental emergencies (604-254-1331, email firstname.lastname@example.org ).
Vancouver Coastal Health can provide dentists who go to individual facilities to help take care of the dental needs of the residents.
Keep your smile, eat the food you love
Smiling and being healthy is an important part of life. It’s hard to imagine not being able to share happy emotions using those pearly whites. Not being able to eat what we enjoyed eating would also be depressing. As we get older, it doesn’t have to be that way because losing teeth is something that is totally preventable. It does however, take some work. With the help of the dentist and hygienist, and your efforts dedicated to paying attention to those teeth at home using effective tools and products, we can keep smiling and having amazing meals with our 32 friends…our teeth.
Time ravages everything and teeth are no exception. But we don’t have to take tooth loss lying down. We can do something about it! Start today.
Dr. Wilson Kwong is a graduate of the Faculty of Dentistry at the University of British Columbia. He is clinical instructor at the UBC Faculty of Dentistry and a respected lecturer for Nobel Biocare and Ivoclar throughout North America. His clinical specialties include cosmetic and restorative dentistry, full mouth rehabilitation, dental implants, tissue grafting and augmentation, and periodontics and endodontic, among others.
Dr. Wilson J. Kwong, DMD, FACD
Cosmetic & Restorative Dentistry
Suite 218 -– 650 West 41st Avenue
Oakridge Centre – South Tower
Vancouver, BC Canada V5Z 2M9