Eating a healthy diet can be difficult for many seniors, according to a recent article published by The Washington Post. The reason? Tooth loss.
Many Americans over the age of 65 are skipping foods like fruits and vegetables and choosing less healthy options such as refined grains, processed foods, and foods high in sodium and empty calories, according to a 2016 research study by the Federal Interagency Forum on Aging-Related Statistics.
'Foods that are processed are generally easier to eat if you're missing teeth than, say, crunchy vegetables or meats that require a lot of chewing,' said Dr. Sean Endsley, a Waco, Texas, dentist.
According to the Washington Post article, nearly three-quarters of American adults over the age of 35 are missing a tooth.
Choosing processed foods can contribute to weight gain and obesity, and also contribute to serious chronic health issues, such as diabetes, heart disease, muscle atrophy and an increased risk of infections.
Missing a tooth or multiple teeth can also have serious oral health impacts.
'When you are missing a tooth, it may not seem like a big deal, but the reality is, it is a big deal,' Endsley said.
When a tooth is missing, that means space is left in its place. This space can cause the teeth adjacent to the missing tooth to move.
'When this happens, your bite changes. When your bite changes, stress on your temporomandibular joints changes,' Endsley said.
The temporomandibular joints, also known as the TMJs, are joints on either side of the head that connect the lower jaw to the skull.
'These joints give the jaw the ability to move up and down, back and forth and side to side,' Endsley said.
When the TMJs experience wear and tear or become misaligned, eating can become painful.
'Chewing, eating, talking and yawning can all become difficult or uncomfortable with TMD,' Endsley said.
Researchers estimate that around 10 million people are living with TMD in the United States, but many others are living undiagnosed.
'The early onset of TMD symptoms can be very subtle. In most cases, the condition can take years to develop and then, all of a sudden, things can get intense quickly,' Endsley said.
In addition to missing teeth, poorly fitting dentures, crowded teeth or teeth and dental restorations that have become damaged can also contribute to TMD and difficulty eating.
This can create a situation in which people skip meals to avoid pain.
Patients can get out of pain, avoid TMD, and get back to eating healthily with a trip to the dentist, however.
'Getting to the dentist to discuss options for tooth replacement and the long-term benefits of replacing missing teeth may help you avoid future pain,' Endsley said.
Source: Washington Post. Don’t let these problems prevent you from eating healthfully. 8 July 2019.