Nutrition and Oral Health


Article Contributed by
NY Connects

Is dry mouth a natural part of the aging process? Are cavities just kids stuff? How does nutrition play a role in oral health? By the year 2060, 24% of the population will be over 65 years of age. Many older adults do not have dental health insurance because they lost it upon retirement and Medicare does not cover routine dental care. Unfortunately, lack of routine dental care can lead to common oral health care problems in the older adult. Common oral health problems in the older adult include untreated tooth decay, gum disease that develops when plaque builds up along or under gum line, tooth loss that makes it difficult to eat a well-balanced diet with a variety of foods, and detection of oral Infection or oral cancer. Other age related issues may also contribute to oral health care problems such as arthritis, making it difficult to brush or floss your teeth. Acid Reflux may soften or erode the enamel on your teeth leading to untreated tooth decay. Furthermore, many chronic diseases may require you to take multiple medications with side effects that reduce saliva flow and cause dry mouth, which makes it hard to chew or swallow and contributes to weakening of the teeth.

Good oral hygiene habits along with good nutrition will help reduce the risk of common oral health care problems in the older adult. Oral hygiene habits include visiting the dentist regularly, even if you wear dentures to reduce bone loss and gum disease as well as to check for the fit of your dentures. Brush with fluoridated toothpaste and floss, twice daily to prevent tooth decay. If dry mouth is an unavoidable side effect of current medications, drink plenty of water and chew sugarless gum. If having an acid reflux attack, rinse your mouth with water to protect your teeth and enamel from erosion. Limit alcohol and avoid tobacco products that lead to tooth decay, oral infections, or oral cancer. Keeping diabetes well controlled can reduce the risk for gum disease.

Your nutrition habits can also contribute to a healthy smile. Rethink your drink! Water is the best choice. Caffeinated tea and coffee not only stain your teeth, but can also dry out your mouth. Sugar loaded beverages can lead to cavities. Eat calcium-rich and phosphorus-rich foods for strong teeth. Good sources of these nutrients include low fat dairy, green leafy vegetables, broccoli, eggs, nuts, and beans. Eat Vitamin C rich foods for gum health such as broccoli, tomatoes, peppers, spinach, and citrus fruits. Limit snacking between meals. Avoid sticky and crunchy foods that can get trapped in your teeth. When eating a meal or snack, floss or rinse your mouth with water to get rid of food particles. Be sure to tell your physician or dentist of mouth pain or sudden changes in taste or smell.

**Please remember to contribute toward your OFA nutrition services if you can. These programs are not sustainable at current levels without the support of participant contributions. Be aware that Food Stamps can be used toward your contribution. Thank you for your support.

Chautauqua County Office for the Aging Senior Nutrition Program provides nutritious noon meals at several Congregate Dining Sites throughout the county along with a Restaurant Dining Out Program. Our Dietitians, Cheryl Wahlstrom RD and Carey Skelton RD are available for nutrition counseling in your home or by phone. We also sponsor several exercise programs. Call the office for more details and information.