More than 70 percent of seniors over the age of 65 suffer from periodontal disease.

This condition can range from gum inflammation to more serious symptoms that can result in major damage to the soft tissue and bone that support the teeth.

Periodontal disease can be classified as an infection of the structures that surround the teeth. This includes the gums, the cementum that covers the root, the periodontal ligament and the alveolar bone.

In the early stages of this disease, pain is not a factor and many people don’t realize that they have the infection. As the condition progresses, many people experience sore gums and pain while chewing.

There are other warning signs of periodontal disease:

  • Bleeding while brushing, eating hard food or flossing
  • Change in fit of partial dentures, which can be caused by a shift in the way a person’s teeth fit together when biting down
  • Loose teeth
  • Gums that are receding from the teeth, which cause the teeth to look much longer than before
  • Red, swollen or tender gums or other pain in the mouth
  • Persistent bad breath

Periodontal disease usually begins because our mouths are filled with bacteria, and plaque begins to form on the teeth. While regularly brushing and flossing can help eliminate this buildup, the plaque that remains begins to harden and form tartar.

Your body responds to this tartar buildup and the cells of the immune system begin to release substances that both inflame and damage the gums, periodontal ligament or the alveolar bone. When this occurs, swelling and bleeding of the gums will likely follow. These are signs of gingivitis, the earliest stage of periodontal disease.

For the elderly in particular, it’s important to maintain proper oral health in an effort to prevent periodontal disease. Here are some helpful tips to prevent this condition.

  • Practice good oral hygiene
    • Brush your teeth after meals to remove the food debris between your teeth and gums.
    • Floss at least once per day to remove any food particles and plaque between the teeth and along the gum line.
    • Use mouthwash to remove any leftover debris that brushing and flossing might have missed.
  • Regularly visit your dentist. This means paying your dentist a visit once every six months.
  • In addition to regular dental visits, schedule an appointment with a periodontist. This dental professional will give you a comprehensive periodontal evaluation, which will provide an in-depth look at your bite, bone structure, teeth, plaque levels and gums. Early detection of symptoms is the best way to protect your teeth and gums and prevent periodontal disease.

Check back in the coming weeks to learn more about the importance of oral health for the elderly.