Senior Health Issues Related to Poor Oral Health

Adults over the age of 65 are the largest and fastest growing demographic of the American population. They’re also the population most  at risk when it comes to dental outcomes and health issues caused by poor oral health.

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Even though the Affordable Care Act (ACA) reformed healthcare for younger citizens, it did little to improve healthcare for seniors. According to Oral Health America, only about two percent of seniors have dental insurance through a prior employer. For many, it’s a serious health concern.

As we age our dental health needs change dramatically. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) warns that foregoing regular oral hygiene care by a dentist or oral hygienist leads to serious health problems, including tooth loss. One in four seniors will loose all of their teeth due to lack of professional care.

The CDC claims:

Older Americans with the poorest oral health are those who are economically disadvantaged, lack insurance, and are members of racial and ethnic minorities. Being disabled, homebound, or institutionalized also increases the risk of poor oral health.

Many older Americans do not have dental insurance. Often these benefits are lost when they retire. The situation may be worse for older women, who generally have lower incomes and may never have had dental insurance.

Oral health professionals understand that seniors in all demographics are susceptible to:

  • Gum disease
  • Root decay
  • Uneven jawbone caused by tooth loss
  • Thrush (overgrowth of fungus in the mouth)
  • Attrition (loss of tooth structure)
  • Tissue inflammation caused by dentures
  • Dry mouth

These oral health conditions often lead to additional problems that impact a senior’s quality of life and their ability to stay healthy. Issues as simple as chewing and eating, due to mouth and gum pain (i.e., irritation caused by dentures, implants, missing teeth, cavities, tooth decay, etc.) lead to more serious health problems, including malnutrition.

Gum Disease and Heart Disease: Are They Linked?

For a number of years researchers have tried to connect gum disease to heart health. As yet, there’s no conclusive evidence. However, WebMD says, “Experts do agree that there are plausible reasons why dental health and heart health may be intertwined. For example, inflammation is a common problem in both diseases… Hardening of the arteries, or atherosclerosis, has a strong component of inflammation.” Gum disease also has an inflammation component.

Experts in periodontology and cardiology analyzed 120 published studies and position papers on the link between heart and dental health. Their consensus report, published in the Journal of Periodontology and the American Journal of Cardiology, makes the following points:

  • A review of several published studies finds that gum disease is, by itself, a risk factor for coronary artery disease.
  • Analysis of the large National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) found that gum disease is an important risk factor for diseases of the blood vessels and the arteries that supply the brain, especially strokes involving insufficient blood or oxygen to the brain.
  • Data from another study of more than 50,000 people found that those with fewer teeth and more gum disease had a higher risk of stroke.
  • However, other studies have uncovered no association between gum disease and stroke.
  • Other research found a direct link between clogged arteries in the legs and gum disease.

So, as yet, there’s no conclusive data to suggest that gum disease and other oral health issues are a direct contributor to coronary heart disease or the risk of stroke. This remains the defining reason that oral healthcare is not provided to seniors with Medicare or Medicaid benefits.

Under the ACA, stand-alone dental insurance policies are available through healthcare.gov, but only with the purchase of a medical insurance plan from the Marketplace. This excludes access to these plans by most seniors.

Even for the poorest among us, Medicaid does not cover dental work for seniors. While state Medicaid programs are required to provide comprehensive dental care for children, coverage for adults is optional, based on federal rules. Only 21 states offer dental care for seniors with Medicaid benefits. In most cases, seniors are on their own for dental care, regardless of their economic situation.

Many seniors with dental health problems purchase a stand-alone dental insurance policy. They are later surprised to discover that the plan does not cover preexisting conditions. Likewise, most plans won’t pay to replace teeth that were lost prior to purchasing the coverage.

Limitations in traditional dental insurance for seniors on Medicare have caused many to seek alternatives that offer the opportunity to obtain affordable treatment for existing oral health problems. One such product is a dental savings plan (DSP).

For most seniors, dental savings plans are a smart, sensible alternative. For a low annual fee, members receive access to a large, growing network of dentists offering discounted rates to seniors. Savings are in the range of 30 to 60%. It all depends on the dentist and the services you need.

One of the best features of a DSP is that there are no claims to file. You simply pay your dentist the discounted rate when you receive the service. Plus, unlike most dental plans, there’s no annual limit (cap) on your coverage. That means you get the care you need when you need it without limitations.

Meningococcal Meningitis

It is very important that people become more aware of meningococcal meningitis because of the severity of the disease. This particular form of meningitis is a tremendously serious infection that results in the swelling and irritation of the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord. This attack on the membrane surrounding the brain and spinal cord is very severe if not treated appropriately, as it can result in being fatal in fifty percent of all cases if not treated aggressively.

Bacteria That Cause Meningitis

There are several different types of bacteria that can cause meningitis, some have the potential to cause widespread epidemics and some are far less contagious. One of the most common ways these meningococcal meningitis bacteria can be spread from person to person is through a simple cough or a sneeze. Droplets of throat secretions can pass the bacteria from one to another, even kissing can s[read the disease.  Many common sense things can help stop the spread of this infection. Simply washing your hands on a regular basis and covering your mouth and nose when you sneeze or cough may help prevent you from spreading the illness to another.  Also it is important to never share intimate items like a toothbrush, drinking glasses or eating utensils with another person. If you happen to become infected with meningococcal meningitis the incubation period is usually about four days but can be anywhere from two to ten days.

Awareness of Meningitis Dangers

It is very important that people become more aware of meningococcal meningitis because of the severity of the disease. This particular form of meningitis is a tremendously serious infection that results in the swelling and irritation of the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord.

Meningococcal meningitis is only a sickness found in people. Your pets or other animals don’t carry or transmit this disease.  A large portion of the population at some time may carry this bacteria in their throat, but in some people it becomes a more serious problem than with others. The factors may be environmental or perhaps hereditary as to who deals with the virus and it’s effects. The rate of carriage appears to be moderately higher in epidemic situations.

Symptoms of Meningitis

It is important to know the symptoms of meningococcal meningitis so that you can seek appropriate treatment as soon as possible. This will give you the quickest and most efficient recovery time. Some of the more common symptoms you may experience are a high fever, a sensitivity to light, a headache, a stiff neck and perhaps even vomiting. Diagnosing the illness early and following a regimen of adequate treatment is important for your survival. Five to ten percent of patients may die within 24 to 48 hours after the onset of symptoms. Even if you do survive you may experience some form of disabling effect including, hearing loss or even severe brain damage.

You should seek a clinical examination as soon as you can and if meningococcal meningitis is suspected, have a lumbar puncture because the spinal fluid will reveal if you are infected or not. Your spinal fluid and your blood will show the increased growth of the bacteria.

Meningitis Treatment

The treatment for meningococcal meningitis is very serious since the disease can be fatal, and a positive diagnosis should be treated as a medical emergency. You have to be admitted to a hospital for constant care immediately. You will not have to be isolated completely from other patients. You should receive an aggressive treatment of antibiotics as soon as possible, in the ideal world, lumbar punctures should be taken immediately and then the antibiotics administered. That way your medical professionals can have the best chance to evaluate your infection. There are many different antibiotics that you can use to fight a meningococcal meningitis infection. It is just important that you start the treatment as soon as you possibly can to ensure as complete a recovery as is possible to have.

Mitral Valve Prolapse

There are many people suffering from mitral valve prolapse without even knowing it. This is a problem in which the valve separating the upper chamber of the heart from the lower chamber on the left side of the heart does not close properly. The malfunction of the valve generally does not cause any problems, but in some cases can lead to more serious problems. Up to 10% of the population has experienced this problem without having any symptoms or having been diagnosed as having the problem.

Risk Factors

There is no known cause of mitral valve prolapse, though it appears to be hereditary in nature. The mitral valve is intended to open for blood to flow in one direction from one chamber to another. During the contraction of the heart, the valve closes to prevent the blood from going in the wrong direction. When a patient is suffering from this disease, the valve does not shut fully or at all.

While the majority of patients will not even show symptoms, the biggest problem occurs when there is a backflow of blood. Called mitral regurgitation, this can create blood flow problems and can even lead to bacterial infection.

There is no known cause of mitral valve prolapse, though it appears to be hereditary in nature. The mitral valve is intended to open for blood to flow in one direction from one chamber to another.

Certain diseases have been associated with this problem. Thin women are at risk if they have scoliosis, minor deformities in their chest wall or other kinds of disorders. Graves disease has also been known to be associated with mitral valve prolapse. Connective tissue disorders, like Marfan syndrome, have been linked to the problem as well. Additional conditions linked to this problem include:

  • Polycystic kidney disease
  • Osteogenesis imperfect
  • Ehlers-Danlos syndrome

Symptoms

In most cases, the patient will not even feel symptoms as the problem is not very intense. Generally, only those who are suffering from mitral valve prolapse syndrome are at risk of feeling any symptoms. Symptoms may not be felt at all even in extreme cases. Those who do feel symptoms may have them develop slowly over the course of their problem. These symptoms can include:

Fatigue:

  • Activity induced breathing difficulties
  • Ability to feel heart beat (palpitations)
  • Shortness of breath while lying flat (orthopnea

Cough

  • Chest Pain

Testing

The best way to detect mitral valve prolapse is through a physical. The doctor will listen to your heart and lungs using a stethoscope. If they hear a heart murmur or feel a thrill over the area of the heart, they will need to investigate further. Common investigative methods include:

  • CT scan of chest
  • Chest X-ray
  • Color-flow Doppler examination
  • ECG
  • Echocardiogram
  • Chest MRI
  • Cardiac catheterization

Treatment

In most cases, no treatment is necessary because there are no symptoms felt. Those suffering from severe mitral valve prolapse may need to stay in a hospital and undergo surgery to replace the valve. Cases which are extreme include those in which there is severe mitral regurgitation or if the symptoms you are feeling get worse over time.