Why is Good Dental Care so Important?

Advocating for good oral and dental health is not just about pretty smiles. In fact, you might be surprised to know all the ways that poor dental health can impact older Canadians.

In 2014, the Nova Scotia Dental Association surveyed Nova Scotians about seniors’ oral health care.  Polls showed:

  • 60% of Nova Scotians are not concerned with their parents’ (over the age of 65) oral health
  • 98% of Nova Scotians rank their own oral health as critical or very important to themselves
  • 27% of Nova Scotians don’t know how their parent (over the age of 65) feels about their own oral health

These statistics indicate a knowledge and awareness gap between caring for your own oral health and being concerned about a family member or loved one that may no longer be able to monitor or maintain their own dental health.  It is likely that these statistics are representative of other provinces.

What are the impacts of dental or oral health?

  • Aging teeth are at increased risk for gum disease, root caries (decay which often leads to tooth loss), soft-tissue lesions and significant tooth wear.
  • Gum disease can damage the gum and bone that hold your teeth in place and may lead to painful chewing problems. In cases of severe gum disease, some people may lose their teeth.Broken or damaged teeth, abscesses, gum disease and other oral problems can lead to an inability to eat, swallow, or speak. These symptoms often go overlooked, and without proper access to care, pose a great danger.
  • Poor or undiagnosed oral problems can lead to the development of lung infections such as pneumonia, especially for seniorswho have a hard time swallowing. Pneumonia may be caused by the inhalation of harmful types of mouth bacteria, which accumulate when the mouth is not cleaned properly and regularly. Good oral hygiene can reduce the risk of such bacteria going into the lungs.
  • People with diabetes are more at risk for mouth infections, especially gum (periodontal) disease. Gum disease may also make it harder for people with diabetes to control their blood sugar levels.
  • Gum disease may increase the risk of heart attack and stroke. Poor oral health may increase the number of harmful bacteria found in the mouth, which may release toxins into the blood that can damage heart tissue.
  • Bacteria that cause gum disease are present in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s.
  • Oral health and oral hygiene status amongst dependent older adults is frequently poor. For some, because it has been given low priority in long-term care, and for those who are independent, there can be issues with dexterity, mobility and resources to fund care.
  • Poor oral health can lower self-esteem and reduce social interactions.
  • Poor oral health is associated with lower quality of life.