Brushing up on your diet, part 3: A final overview
By now, Sun Citians know that the body is a complex machine. Foods you choose as fuel and how often you “fill up” affect your general health and that of your teeth and gums.
Not sure that you are getting the proper nourishment needed by your body, teeth, and gums? Just check out the U.S. Department of Agriculture website. The USDA oversees the nutritional health of its citizens through recommended food pyramids. Researchers at Tufts University have developed a modified version of the food pyramid for adults 70 and over. The two modifications in conjunction with oral health are mentioned below:
1. Weak bones is a typical problem for older people. Another problem that is faced due to aging is the reducing capability of the cells in the body to absorb certain nutrients and minerals such as calcium, vitamin D, and vitamin B12. A first addition to the food pyramid, then, has been made for seniors where, besides natural and organic sources of minerals and vitamins (fruits and vegetables), there is the mention of a grave need for supplements for healthy nerves, blood, and bones or teeth. These supplements should accompany a healthy eating plan and be prescribed only by a personal doctor.
2. Tooth decay remains the most common and costly oral health problem in all ages. A second added section of the pyramid, therefore, is water. It is important that seniors, as other U.S. populations, drink eight glasses of water a day.
In addition, knowing that fluoride usage is one of the best defenses against tooth decay throughout life, we are very fortunate to have fluoride added to our Huntley drinking water in the proper ratio. Research has shown that fluoridated water reduces cavities in all age groups, including up to 35 percent in adults and seniors.
Fluoridated water is the most practical and cost effective source of fluoride. According to the American Dental Association, a recent study showed a 31 percent reduction of dental disease in adults with a continuous lifetime exposure to fluoridated water and the use of fluoride toothpastes.
Fluoride works on the tooth structure to reverse the early stages of tooth decay by promoting the remineralization of enamel. In this process, fluoride increases the enamel intake of calcium and phosphorous to repair weakened spots.
As the gums recede with age or as a result of gum disease, the newly exposed tooth root surfaces become vulnerable to acid attack. Fluoride inhibits the development of acid on these surfaces as well – a benefit especially important to older adults.
Jackie Eckert, my dental hygienist, and Dr. Bob Angerame, dentist, who work together at a Palatine dental office commented together on the topic.
“Almost all seniors have some form of periodontal [gum] disease,” Angerame said. “The biggest problem seen among seniors is gum line decay.”
“No correct dental hygiene and poor, improper diet leads to tissue receding, although sometimes this can happen even though everything has been done properly, with bone loss of tooth still occurring [possibly hereditary],” Eckert said.
“Three months in between checkup visits sometimes is needed; [seniors] can’t always reach troubled spots in teeth,” Eckert added.
Indeed, it is recommended that for effective use, the toothbrush be sized correctly for your mouth and be easy to hold correctly. Bristles should be sturdy enough to remove plaque, but not hard enough to damage the tooth’s enamel. Watch applying undue, hard pressure that could damage the teeth and gums when brushing.
Long horizontal strokes at 45 degree angles are best with all surfaces brushed, followed by a rinse after flossing with waxed floss. Every three to four months, toothbrushes should be retired and new ones purchased. If your brushing technique is correct, there is no need for an electric toothbrush.
Eckert mentions, “The average person only brushes for 34 to 37 seconds, not long enough to do an adequate job.”
Dentists highly recommend two minutes, and electric toothbrushes now have timers to help time brushing.
“Seniors get root surface decay because they don’t get the toothbrush down far enough,” Eckert said.
“Because of dry mouth caused by so many medications taken by seniors, where not having enough saliva will not rinse out food, is also a problem,” she added.
Eckert said taking allergy medicine with antihistamines can really dry out the mouth. How does dry mouth feel? Angerame said that he had a senior patient that described his dry mouth condition as “Eating like having chosen a peanut butter sandwich on top of a bagel with sand on the peanut butter.”
When should you contact a dentist?
1. Bleeding, red, swollen, or tender gums
2. Gums separating from your teeth
3. Pus around the tooth near the gum line
4. Lack of taste or particularly bad breath (halitosis)
5. Loose or chipped teeth
6. A change in the fit of dentures or partials
7. Dry, cracked, swollen, or blistered lips
8. Difficulty chewing
9. Any sharp or dull tooth pain that continues over a period of time
“All good dental exams should include a check for cancer of the mouth and the mouth’s surrounding tissues,” Angerame said.
Citizens of this senior community: Eat right and practice good oral hygiene immediately every day after every meal. You will be rewarded with a smile that makes a lasting impression on everyone in Sun City and elsewhere.