Did you know that poor oral health can make it harder to control your diabetes, and lead to heart complications? Do you know how long you should wait to visit the dentist’s office if something in your mouth doesn’t feel right?

You can brush up on these topics and much more at the next Lunch and Learn event, hosted by the LGBT Health Resource Center of Chase Brexton Health Care on Thursday, March 9th from noon to 1:30 p.m. in the community rooms at Chase Brexton’s Mt. Vernon Center (1111 North Charles Street, Baltimore).

We asked dental hygienist Karyn Carr Porter, who will present the Lunch and Learn program, a few questions about how oral health can affect older adults.

In your experience, how concerned are older adults about their oral health?

I have seen older adults on both ends of the spectrum. Some are very concerned with taking care of their teeth and their overall oral health, because that is how they have been their whole life. On the other end, I’ve also seen older adults that have neglected their teeth for most of their life, either due to not making them a priority, or not having the financial ability to take care of them. Whatever the case, usually once they are in my chair they start becoming more invested in their oral health and in trying to keep what they have.

What are some oral health issues that older adults need to be aware of?

There are many issues that older adults will most likely encounter with their oral health as they age. The biggest change centers around what we call xerostomia, or dry mouth. This condition is a reduction in saliva in the mouth. It can also affect other areas in the body that need lubrication, such as your eyes. Patients with xerostomia can have many issues stemming from this dryness, including an increased risk for tooth decay, altered food taste and problems with swallowing. This can all lead to poor nutrition, loss of weight and a decline to overall health. Other issues older adults may have include gum recession, bone loss, loss of dexterity in their hands and fingers, and the loss of mental capability to care for one’s self.

What impact can various medications have on an individual’s oral health?

The biggest impact medications can have in oral health is in furthering xerostomia. This condition can lead to increased tooth decay, altered taste, changes in an individual’s tongue and other oral tissues, and an increased risk of yeast and fungal infections.

How common are oral cancers, and what do older adults need to know about them?

Oral cancer is more prevalent in individuals 40 and older, and in men more than women.  Oral cancer is usually caught in a late-stage form due to a lack of outward signs of pain or abnormality and/or inadequate or infrequent oral cancer screenings. Any changes in your mouth should be brought to the attention of a dental professional if they have not healed in two or three weeks.

How can oral health affect an individual’s quality of life?

Our oral health can have a major impact on our overall health. First and foremost, if an older adult cannot care for their teeth, the act of everyday eating and drinking can suffer. This can lead to poor nutrition, weight loss, a decrease in self-esteem and an increase in bacteria.  What a lot of patients don’t know is that the bacteria in your mouth can also affect other areas of your body. For instance, if you have an increased amount of bacteria that causes periodontal disease, and you also have Type 1 or 2 diabetes, it will be harder to control your diabetes until your periodontal disease is under control.  The same can be said for oral bacteria and heart disease – evidence shown a link to increased heart complications due to increased bacteria in the mouth.

Overall, if we can increase an individual’s awareness about their oral health, and decrease their bacteria and risk factors, we can increase the quality and length of their life.

For information and to register for the upcoming Lunch and Learn program, please visit Tinyurl.com/LGBTOralHealth.

The purpose of the LGBT Health Resource Center of Chase Brexton Health Care is to provide LGBTQ individuals and their families with welcoming access to expert health information and resources that will enhance wellness and quality of life.For more information, please visit ResourceCenter.lgbt.