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Mind your mouth

Posted September 25, 2013 in Advice Column

It’s one of those things you’ve been hearing your entire life: Don’t forget to brush your teeth.

Brushing is a cornerstone of good oral health, but as we age there a few more things to consider. Research shows that your mouth is a window to the health of your entire body.

It’s no secret that brushing and flossing daily is highly recommended. Dental checkups are also a must: Once a year is recommended, but most dental insurance plans will cover cleaning/exams twice annually. Early detection and prevention of oral issues can make a huge difference. Limiting the frequency of sugary snacks can allow teeth a chance to recover from acid attacks. If you wear dentures, it’s necessary to remove them and give them a good scrubbing daily. Lastly, limiting alcohol and tobacco use is recommended.

Gum (periodontal) disease is of particular interest to dentists. Basically, it’s a chronic bacterial infection in the mouth. It has been connected to heart disease, stroke and diabetes. If you suspect gum disease, look for these red flags:
•    Red, swollen, tender or bleeding gums.
•    Loose or separating teeth.
•    Persistent bad breath.
•    Changes in the fit of dentures or the way teeth fit together when you bite down.
•    Mouth sores that bleed or persist longer than two weeks.
•    Jaw pain, difficulty swallowing, chewing or speaking.
•    Discoloration inside the mouth.
•    Lump(s) inside the oral cavity.

Another common issue is dry mouth. Sometimes this is caused by certain medications. The concern with dry mouth is the increased risk for cavities, gum disease and bad breath. Remedies include:
•    Sipping water throughout the day.
•    Chewing sugar-free gum.
•    Using a humidifier in the bedroom at night
•    Using an oral moisturizer  (located by the mouthwash).

Diabetics should be especially cautious about their oral health as it puts them at a greater risk for gum disease, can affect blood sugar levels and can even make diabetes harder to control. In addition, diabetics are also more prone to dry mouth, thrush and oral sores.

Brushing, flossing and regular checkups are all well and good, but there are barriers to obtaining dental care for older adults. The problem is compounded when you realize that dental care is not covered under Medicare. Accessing dental care can be especially challenging for nursing home residents. Utilizing funds from Incurred Medical Expenses (IME) can help them get the dental care they need. This program is routinely used for eyeglasses and hearing aids. Many people are not aware that it can also cover dental treatment. Furthermore, federally funded health care centers offer services on a sliding scale, based on income.

Information provided by Kristen Sheston, assistant manager, The Continental at St. Joseph’s, 19999 Old Highway 5, Centerville, 641-437-1999.

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