Aging And Dental Health
We have compiled this article on Aging and Dental Health. The reference links are at the bottom of the article.
As you age, it becomes even more important to take good care of your teeth and dental health. One common misconception is that losing your teeth is inevitable. This is not true. If cared for properly, your teeth can last a lifetime.
Your mouth changes as you age. The nerves in your teeth can become smaller, making your teeth less sensitive to cavities or other problems. If you don’t get regular dental exams, this, in turn, can lead to these problems not being diagnosed until it is too late.
If you want to feel good, stay healthy, and look great throughout life, you might be surprised what a difference a healthy mouth makes.
- Brush twice a day with a toothbrush with soft bristles. You may also benefit from using an electric toothbrush.
- Clean between your teeth once a day with floss or another flossing tool.
- If you wear full or partial dentures, remember to clean them on a daily basis. Take your dentures out of your mouth for at least four hours every day. It’s best to remove them at night.
- Drink tap water. Since most contain fluoride, it helps prevent tooth decay no matter how old you are.
- Quit smoking. Besides putting you at greater risk for lung and other cancers, smoking increases problems with gum disease, tooth decay, and tooth loss.
- Visit your dentist. Visit your dentist regularly for a complete dental check-up.
By adopting healthy oral habits at home, making smart choices about diet and lifestyle, and seeking regular dental care, you can help your teeth last a lifetime—whether you have your natural teeth, implants or wear dentures.
You may have a parent, spouse, or friend who has difficulty maintaining a healthy mouth on their own. How can you help? Two things are critical:
- Help them keep their mouth clean with reminders to brush and floss daily.
- Make sure they get to a dentist regularly.
These steps can prevent many problems, but tasks that once seemed so simple can become very challenging. If your loved one is having difficulty with brushing and flossing, talk to a dentist or hygienist who can provide helpful tips or a different approach. For those who wear dentures, pay close attention to their eating habits. If they’re having difficulty eating or are not eating as much as usual, denture problems could be the cause.
When you’re caring for someone who is confined to bed, they may have so many health problems that it’s easy to forget about oral health. However, it’s still very important because bacteria from the mouth can be inhaled into the lungs and cause pneumonia.
How Age Can Affect Oral Health
Certain changes occur slowly over time in our bodies as we age:
- Cells renew at a slower rate
- Tissues become thinner and less elastic
- Bones become less dense and strong
- The immune system can become weaker, so infection can occur more quickly and healing takes longer
These changes affect tissue and bone in the mouth, which increases the risk for oral health problems in later years
Older adults are more at risk for dry mouth. This can occur because of age, medicine use, or certain health conditions.
Saliva plays an important role in maintaining oral health. It protects your teeth from decay and helps your gums stay healthy. When the salivary glands in your mouth don’t produce enough saliva, it can increase the risk for:
- Problems tasting, chewing, and swallowing
- Mouth sores
- Gum disease and tooth decay
- Yeast infection in the mouth (thrush)
Your mouth may produce a bit less saliva as you get older. But medical problems that occur in older adults are more common causes of dry mouth:
- Many medicines, such as some used to treat high blood pressure, high cholesterol, pain, and depression, can reduce the amount of saliva you produce. This is probably the most common cause of dry mouth in older adults.
- Side effects of cancer treatment can cause dry mouth.
- Health conditions such as diabetes, stroke, and Sjögren syndrome can affect your ability to produce saliva.
Receding gums are common in older adults. This is when the gum tissue pulls away from the tooth, exposing the base, or root, of the tooth. This makes it easy for bacteria to build up and cause inflammation and decay.
A lifetime of brushing too hard can cause gums to recede. However, gum disease (periodontal disease) is the most common cause of receding gums.
Gingivitis is an early type of gum disease. It occurs due when plaque and tartar build-up and irritate and inflame the gums. Severe gum disease is called periodontitis. It can lead to loss of teeth.
Certain conditions and diseases common in older adults can put them at risk for periodontal disease.
- Not brushing and flossing every day
- Not getting regular dental care
- Dry mouth
- Weak immune system
Dental cavities occur when bacteria in the mouth (plaque) change sugars and starches from food into acid. This acid attacks tooth enamel and can lead to cavities.
Cavities are common in older adults in part because more adults are keeping their teeth for their lifetime. Because older adults often have receding gums, cavities are more likely to develop at the root of the tooth.
A dry mouth also causes bacteria to build up in the mouth more easily, leading to tooth decay.
Oral cancer is more common in people older than age 45 and is twice as common in men as in women.
Smoking and other types of tobacco use are the most common cause of oral cancer. Drinking alcohol in excess along with tobacco use greatly increases the risk for oral cancer.
Other factors that may increase the risk for oral cancer include:
- Human papillomavirus (HPV) infection (same virus that causes genital warts and several other cancers)
- Poor dental and oral hygiene
- Taking medicines that weaken the immune system (immunosuppressants)
- Rubbing from rough teeth, dentures, or fillings over a long period of time
- No matter what your age, proper dental care can keep your teeth and gums healthy.
- Brush twice a day with a soft-bristle toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste.
- Floss at least once a day.
- See your dentist for regular check-ups.
- Avoid sweets and sugar-sweetened beverages.
- Do not smoke or use tobacco.
If medicines are causing dry mouth, talk with your health care provider to see if you may be able to change medicines. Ask about artificial saliva or other products to help keep your mouth moist.
Thank you for reading this article and check back frequently for other dental health articles. Should you have any questions, please contact Apple Tree Dental today!
Article compiled by Apple Tree Dental
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