A Healthy Mouth Will Let You Take a Big Bite out of Life!
By Michèle Sirois, host of the Ère Libre show on MAtv and collaborator at the Institut universitaire de gériatrie de Montréal (geriatric institute)
For many years, oral health was not considered part of our overall health. It’s undoubtedly why Quebec’s health insurance plan still doesn’t cover dental care. And yet, it’s so important!
During a talk given in the Le Groupe Maurice amphitheatre on April 18th, dentist Julia Fournier-Debaene* reminded us of the importance of maintaining good oral hygiene as we age.
She started off by giving advice for people age 65 and older:
- Brush your teeth with a soft-bristle or electric toothbrush at least twice a day
- Be careful not to brush too hard!
- Floss your teeth every day or use another instrument if you’re less flexible (only 41% of people 65 and older use dental floss and most are women)
- After turning 65, get a checkup at least twice a year and schedule a visit any time you notice a change or experience pain
Even if we keep up the same good oral health routine throughout our lives, our bodies—including our teeth and gums—change as we age and may need extra attention.
Less saliva means more plaque
We produce less saliva as we age. Saliva cleans the mouth and eliminates bacteria on the tongue, gums and inside of the cheeks. If you have less saliva, more plaque (made up of sugar and bacteria) can form. Excess plaque can cause gingivitis (inflammation of the gums).
Dr. Fournier-Debaene also reminded us that several of the medications frequently taken after age 65 can dry out the mouth. Some sleeping pills and hypertension drugs, among others, often cause dry mouth.
Here is what Dr. Fournier-Debaene recommended to make up for the decrease in saliva:
- Be sure to stay well hydrated
- Suck on a sugar-free candy or chew sugar-free gum to stimulate saliva production
- Reduce your consumption of spicy foods, caffeine and alcohol
- Don’t use mouthwash that contains alcohol
- Ask your doctor or dentist about a saliva substitute. Some don’t require a prescription, but it’s always best to consult your pharmacist before using one
How to keep your enamel from eroding
A decrease in saliva can also affect tooth enamel. Saliva dilutes acids in food. If your mouth is too acidic, it can erode your enamel, which can cause your teeth to develop fissures and cavities. In addition to staying well hydrated, Dr. Fournier-Debaene recommends that you:
- Wait 30 minutes before brushing your teeth if you’ve eaten a highly acidic fruit
- Use toothpaste and/or mouthwash that contains fluoride
- If you’re unable to brush your teeth, eat a piece of hard cheese, like cheddar. Because cheese is alkaline, it will help rebalance your mouth’s pH
Counter bone loss
We tend to lose bone mass as we age and that includes the bones in our jaw. Bone loss can make the gums less solid and the teeth less stable.
You can avoid a costly bone graft with good oral hygiene, which will keep gingivitis and periodontitis at bay. And don’t forget to get enough calcium and vitamin D.
Teeth and overall health
As an oral health specialist, the dentist felt compelled to mention that the health of our teeth and gums goes beyond our mouths. In fact, recent studies have shown that certain illnesses can originate from an unhealthy mouth.
Inflammation caused by gingivitis, more specifically periodontitis, is a risk factor for stroke, heart attack and diabetes.
Also, tooth and jaw problems, and ill-fitting dentures, can make mastication difficult. Foods that are important for health, like fruits and vegetables, can become difficult to chew, causing us to avoid them. Finally, foods that are not well-masticated can be difficult to digest.
Keeping your teeth healthy contributes to your overall well-being.
While dental care is not included in the governmental health insurance plan, changes are on the horizon.
Last February, the Government of Quebec announced that it will be investing 10 million dollars per year to create programs that will offer oral health services to CHSLD residents.
A bright smile radiates optimism and good health!
* Dr. Julia Fournier-Debaene, DMD
Service dentaire mobile inc.