Aging for all of us brings on change. Change is constant. Some of those changes create weaknesses in the function of our bodies' ability to fight infection. Therefore, it is so very important to maintain good oral health care as we age and develop good habits from an early age.

Speaking of habits ... did you ever see a baby elephant tethered to a pole in the ground with a chain, rocking back and forth, to and fro? The elephant could not pull up that stake for anything. Now flash forward and see that older elephant tethered to that same, now small, stake in the ground. The elephant moves back and forth, to and fro "knowing" that he cannot lift out that stake. But we all know that he/she can. It's a matter of mind-set. It is habit!

We become conditioned from early on in our lives and develop our habits; from these come our values. If our parents wore dentures, then I guess it is alright if we do too. It is not, unless there are no alternatives. This is mind-set and conditioning. Complacency here substitutes for good health habits and we subsequently lose our teeth because we don't know any better. Knowledge is power and you can gain that power by going to your dental practitioner and asking questions. You can also surf the Web for dental questions and procedures in order to learn more about them. There is no excuse not to learn things now.

Aging brings on a decrease in our ability to fight infection, especially if one is medically compromised in some fashion. Diabetes I or II can decrease the body's ability to fight infection, hence disease proliferates in the form of gingivitis, an infection in the gums, followed by periodontal disease, an infection in the supporting tissues of ligament and bone that hold the teeth in the jaws. This inflammatory process can then send specific cells, which are detrimental to your health, throughout your body. This then causes disease and problems that can be serious and sometimes life-threatening.

This process can infiltrate in the blood stream and cause increased insulin resistance and exacerbate diabetes, making it uncontrolled. These same infiltrates can be inhaled and cause pneumonia, blood disease, kidney failure and coronary heart disease. Recent research has pointed out these factors. A study done last year using pieces of dentures from people on the East and West coasts were cultured. These were shown to harbor more than 600 types of bacteria and fungus! Learn to clean your removable appliances and to clean your teeth.

It's all about good habits, commitment, learning what you need to do to stay healthy and to keep yourself disease-free and living longer. People who brush and floss daily add approximately 6.4 years to their lives, according to a study done by Harvard University a few years ago. Studies of men age 70 and more show that life expectancy goes down along with the number of teeth one has.

Remember, attached to every tooth is a person. Taking care of yourself is the best gift you can give to yourself. You get your baby teeth and then your adult teeth, then there are no more chances to grow teeth ... unless you're a shark! Stay healthy and live-longer.

Eric Shapira is a dentist and clinical gerontologist-aging specialist living on the Coastside. To learn more about him, visit

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