One of the most devastating effects of aging is the decline in cognitive function that affects our elders in their later years. Some recent research points to declining oral health for elders as a factor affecting their mental health. In the US, the senior population is growing every day, and over a third of over-70 elders suffer from some form of mental impairment!
Senior Mental Health and Oral Health: What the Research Says
In a number of oral and cognitive health studies published from 1993-2013, some findings suggest a link between indicators of poor oral health and mental decline. A few studies show that elders with tooth loss, cavities and gum disease were more likely to be at risk of dementia and other mental health problems.
Other studies didn’t find a link, or differed on the number of cavities or missing teeth in our elders with mental health issues. On the whole, however, most of the studies found a greater prevalence of oral health issues in seniors with impaired cognition, especially dementia.
Even if research has not yet proved a direct causal link between the two, there is enough of a connection to raise concern about senior mental health and their oral hygiene.
How Is Senior Mental Health Affected By Poor Oral Hygiene?
Here are some of the possible factors that may link poor oral health and cognitive decline:
- According to a North Shore University Hospital dentist named Dr. Jacqueline Sobota, there may be a shared inflammatory pathway for both cognitive impairment and poor oral health for seniors.
- As per a Lenox Hill Hospital memory loss specialist and neurologist, Dr. Gayatri Devi, dementia may also cause apraxia, where patients forget a task they’ve learned previously, like brushing their teeth.
- Patients with cognitive problems might also forget to brush or floss their teeth, even without apraxia. This could be a contributing factor affecting their dental health, according to Dr. Devi.
Maintaining Oral Health is Critical for Seniors
Dr. Gayatri Devi also added that seniors in the early stages of dementia typically continue to take care of their oral hygiene with the same attention they gave these tasks before their cognitive abilities were impaired. However, senior caregivers and healthcare providers need to pay special attention to their patients’ dental health.
Good oral hygiene is especially crucial for seniors, since dental problems are also associated with other conditions like diabetes, stroke, heart disease, pneumonia, etc. Brushing, flossing, eating healthy and visiting a dentist regularly can help keep a wide range of other problems at bay.
To learn more about dental health and tooth restorative solutions for seniors, call 623-925-8822 for a complimentary consultation at Joshua Hong DDS today!