If you’re a baby boomer, born between 1946 and 1964, here’s another reason to improve your oral health: Your risk of periodontal (gum) disease rises with age and can lead to a host of physical problems, including Alzheimer’s disease.
Higher Risk of Periodontal Disease
Boomers grew up in a time of prosperity, education, and opportunity. Yet this generation has a greater need for oral treatment than any other. The Centers for Disease Control reports that 70 percent of Americans 65 and older have chronic gum disease. Surveys suggest that growing up in a time of plenty may have led to a taste for a diet rich in carbohydrates and sugar. Starches and sweets accelerate the formation of plaque, which leads to enamel erosion and gingivitis.
Research also shows that boomers can do better to protect their oral health. One survey shows only 40 percent of older people use mouthwash, 34 percent brush their teeth only once a day, and 47 percent say they often skip flossing.
When age-related conditions like arthritis make proper brushing and flossing more difficult, it exacerbates the problem further.
Periodontal Disease Raises Risk for Alzheimer’s
Another reason to take care of your mouth as you age is the growing connection between gum disease and Alzheimer’s disease. More than 6 million Americans over 65 have been diagnosed with this form of dementia, a number projected to more than double by 2050.
A 2019 National Institutes of Health study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease shows the bacteria that cause gingivitis, the earliest form of periodontal disease, are also connected to several forms of dementia. One species of bacteria, porphyromonas gingivalis, is believed to migrate from gum infections through the bloodstream and into the brain. There, they release enzymes that can destroy nerve cells, leading to memory loss and Alzheimer’s.
The relationship between dementia and gum disease goes the other way, too: People with memory loss may neglect their oral health.
Protecting Oral Health as You Age
Research is underway to develop a drug that can block bad bacterial enzymes and slow the progression of dementia. Until then, it is imperative to take extra care of your teeth and gums as you age.
- Brush twice a day, floss once or twice a day, and visit our office for regular checkups.
- Cut out sugary foods and beverages. Use the artificial sweetener xylitol, which is shown to starve harmful bacteria and reduce plaque buildup.
- Dry mouth lowers oral pH, increasing the risk of tooth decay and gum disease. Talk to us about special oral rinses, lozenges, and other preventive measures.
- Swish with water after eating and consuming sweet and acidic drinks.
- Resolve to adopt a healthier diet and lifestyle for overall good health. Studies show this alone may lower your risk for Alzheimer’s disease by up to 60 percent.
Aging does not mean gum disease and related health problems are inevitable. Baby boomers are known for being proactive about health care when they have the right information. We are happy to do our part and help you improve your oral health in your golden years.
Karl A. Smith, DDS, MS
Phone: (703) 894-4867
2500 N. Van Dorn St., Suite 128
Alexandria, VA 22302