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Aging does not mean tooth loss. While dentures may have once felt inevitable, we’ve made incredible strides in dental care, both at home and in the office. With the proper preventive care, you can keep your smile in place for life. But you need the support of the knowledge and tools that will allow you to achieve this goal. Being aware of oral health risks that accompany aging is the first step toward long-term health. Below, we’ve divided common problems into 2 categories – health- and lifestyle-related. Whether you’re entering years that may be dangerous for your teeth or are helping a loved one, keep these in mind to avoid decay and gum disease.
If you ever have questions about your dental health, don’t hesitate to get in touch. We’re here to help you maintain your smile and keep it working comfortably. Today, about 75% of people over 65 have kept all or some of their teeth. Between water fluoridation and fluoride toothpaste, and advances in dental care that save teeth, there’s a very high likelihood that you’ll retain all of your teeth as well. Read on for more specific tips, and keep smiling!
Common Dental Health Problems for Seniors
- Dry mouth – During dry mouth, inadequate saliva is produced to create a safe environment for teeth. When the mouth is dry, teeth are more likely to be affected by acids and to erode. Unfortunately, dry mouth is a side effect of hundreds of medications, many of which are commonly taken during old age. Prescription medications for blood pressure, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and high cholesterol all share this dry mouth side effect. Be sure to tell your dentist whenever you start taking a new medication, even if you don’t think it’s related to oral health. We will recommend an oral moisturizer or help you remember to drink plenty of water throughout the day. Some patients benefit from chewing sugar-free gum to stimulate saliva production. If your dry mouth is severe, sealants might be necessary to protect your enamel.
- Heightened risk of cavities – Our tooth enamel thins as we age. This (paired with the likelihood of dry mouth) makes cavities more likely. Make sure you avoid sugary or acidic foods and drinks, and eat fresh produce, dairy, and lean protein. Brush and floss regularly and after eating, but wait 30 minutes in case a sugary snack has softened your enamel.
- Heightened risk of gum disease – Gum disease is the top cause of tooth loss, so its prevention bears special attention. If you can avoid gum disease as you age, you’re much more likely to preserve your pearly whites. Periodontal disease is the result of plaque buildup on your teeth and tooth roots. It can be painless and asymptomatic to the untrained eye. So it’s crucial that you schedule regular dental exams. Not only is gum disease associated with tooth loss, it may be linked to a variety of systemic health conditions. Reduce your risk of health problems with diligent home care & oral hygiene.
- Oral cancer – The average age at which oral cancer is diagnosed is 62. About 35,000 new cases appear each year, with cancerous tissues in the mouth, throat, or tongue. We perform oral cancer screenings at your routine exams to catch any problems early when they are treatable.
- Shifting teeth – If you do experience gum disease or tooth loss, the remaining teeth are affected even after the issue is resolved. Space created by a missing tooth or receding gums acts as a gap that other teeth shift to fill. This disrupts your bite and can cause discomfort, jaw problems, and a higher risk of decay or recurring gum disease. The appropriate dental restorations will keep healthy teeth in place and preserve your bite.
Lifestyle Changes that Impact Dental Health
- Loss of dental insurance upon retirement – Many individuals lose their dental insurance when they stop working. If you no longer have insurance, let us know and we’ll help you find dental care and payment options.
- Difficulty brushing and flossing – Individuals with arthritis or other mobility issues find it tough to brush and floss effectively. This can be solved with the introduction of new dental products like an electric toothbrush or floss holder. We will help you find ways to clean comfortably – you shouldn’t have to wince and strain to keep your teeth clean. Just ask if you’re looking for suggestions.
- Problematic medications – Like we mentioned earlier, a medication that improves your systemic health may disrupt your dental health. Always keep your dentist in the loop to avoid issues.
- Difficulty chewing – Aging teeth, tooth loss, and dental problems may accumulate over the years, making it hard to chew. This makes it difficult to get the proper nutrients, in turn worsening your dental health. Let your dentist know if you’re struggling to bite and chew.
- Long-term tobacco use – Many years of smoking or chewing tobacco will add up. Tobacco use can heighten your risk of gum disease and oral cancer. If you’re ready to consider quitting, there are many helpful online resources.