BY LISA WARREN
Children are reminded frequently about the importance of brushing, flossing and other good oral hygiene practices.
But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is also on a campaign to remind seniors of such healthy habits as well.
In addition to maintaining a bright, glowing smile, healthy gums and teeth can also help impact one's overall good health well into the golden years, the CDC says.
Many people mistakenly believe that losing one's teeth is an inevitable part of aging and that there is nothing they can do about it.
In the 1950s, the CDC says that fewer than 50 percent of older adults retained their teeth. Today, more than 72 percent of the nation's 37 million adults age 65 and over keep their teeth into old age, the CDC says.
"As a result, strategies for maintaining healthy teeth and gums - such as good oral hygiene, fluoride in drinking water and toothpaste, and regular professional care - are just as important for older adults as for children," the CDC report says.
"All adults need to know more about what they can do to maintain their oral health," said Barbara Gooch, D.M.D., M.P.H., a dental officer in the CDC's Division of Oral Health.
"Older adults, along with caregivers, health care providers and policy makers, should be aware of effective ways to prevent and control oral diseases," Gooch said in the release.
COMMON DENTAL ISSUES
Factors that may put older adults at higher risk of dental problems include poor general health status, reduced ability to heal, medications, depression, decline in memory, dry mouth, functional impairments, hormonal changes, and changes in financial status or income, the CDC says.
* Darkened teeth - Caused, to some extent, by changes in dentin - the bone-like tissue that underlies the tooth enamel - and by a lifetime of consuming stain-causing foods and beverages.
* Dry mouth - This condition is caused by reduced saliva flow, which can be a result of cancer treatments that use radiation to the head and neck area, as well as certain diseases, such as Sjögren's syndrome, and medication side effects.
* Diminished sense of taste - While advancing age impairs the sense of taste, diseases, medications, and dentures can also contribute to this sensory loss.
* Root decay - This is caused by exposure of the tooth root to decay-causing acids. The tooth roots become exposed as gum tissue recedes from the tooth.
* Gum disease - Caused by plaque and made worse by food left in teeth, use of tobacco products, poor-fitting bridges and dentures, poor diets, and certain diseases, such as anemia, cancer, and diabetes, this is often a problem for older adults.
* Tooth loss - Gum disease is a leading cause of tooth loss.
* Uneven jawbone - This is caused by tooth loss.
* Denture-induced stomatitis - Ill-fitting dentures, poor dental hygiene, or a buildup of the fungus Candida albicans cause this condition, which is inflammation of the tissue underlying a denture.
"Seniors who are homebound or in nursing homes, even those who no longer have their teeth or wear dentures, should receive regular oral examinations and dental care," the CDC recommends.
Other tips the CDC provided included:
* Brush teeth and gums with a soft bristle toothbrush at least twice a day with fluoride toothpaste. Use dental floss daily to clean between your teeth.
* Drink fluoridated water.
* Eat a balanced diet and limit between meal snacks. Avoid sugars and starches when snacking and limit the number of snacks eaten throughout the day.
* Undergo regular dental checkups. Even among those who do not have any teeth, regular dental visits are very important to check for any problems. An oral exam can provide early detection of pre-cancerous or cancerous lesions.
* See a dentist right away if you notice loose teeth, bleeding when you brush, red and swollen gums, or any other unusual changes.
* Keep dentures clean and well fit. Remove your dentures while you are sleeping.
* Avoid tobacco.
* Limit alcohol.
* If you have dry mouth, talk to your doctor and dentist about your medications.
* If you are a caretaker of an older adult, ensure that oral care is incorporated in daily general care.