As we all grow older, certain health concerns deserve our full attention, one of them is oral health and the state of our teeth. We only get one set of permanent teeth, so it’s crucial to take care of them for our entire lives.
Thanks to advances in modern dentistry, more widespread oral care education, and the availability of better oral care tools, such as toothbrushes, toothpaste, and inter-dental cleaners (brushes to clean between the teeth), a greater number of older adults are keeping their natural teeth for a much longer period of time.
Ageing Presents New Dental Challenges
As you get older, certain oral conditions not present when you were younger might develop. These include:
- Dry mouth: Dry mouth can result from physical changes within the body as it ages, but can also be caused by medications. Studies show that many commonly used medications can contribute to a decrease in saliva production and result in a dry mouth. Dry mouth increases the risk for oral disease, as saliva helps kill bacteria and helps to rebuild enamel.
- Attrition: Otherwise known as simple wear and tear, many years of chewing and grinding can take their toll on an ageing set of teeth. As enamel wears down, the risk for cavities increases.
- Gum Disease: This potentially serious condition occurs when the gum tissues surrounding teeth become infected because of a build up of plaque on the teeth and gums. Gingivitis is the first stage of gum disease and is recognizable by swollen, red or bleeding gums.
- Gum disease is a concern for older adults for a number of reasons, including plaque building up on teeth and gums from not developing proper oral health care habits earlier in life. Other disease affecting the mouth includes oral cancer and less serious illnesses, such as thrush, which is an abnormal growth of fungus in the mouth.
- Tooth or Root decay: Often accompanied by gum disease, the roots of your teeth may become exposed as your gums recede, leading to an increased rate of decay as you age.
Maintaining Healthy Teeth and Mouth as You Age
It is important to remember, that keeping your teeth in good condition as you age might require some special attention. There are several things you can do to maintain your oral health as you age:
- Maintain adequate nutrition: As you grow older, inadequate nutrition may contribute to an accelerated deterioration of your teeth and gums. Loose or painful teeth, or ill-fitting dentures may in turn result in a reduced desire or ability to eat. Proper diet and nutrition should therefore be the most important factor if you want to keep your teeth and have a healthy mouth into an advanced age.
- Increase oral hydration: Ask your doctor if you can substitute your medication for one that doesn’t produce dry mouth. If this is not possible, then drink plenty of water, chew a sugar-free gum, and avoid alcohol, which tends to dehydrate your body.
- Increase fluoridation: Switch to a fluoride toothpaste or incorporate a fluoride rinse into your daily routine.
- Avoid tobacco: Tobacco in any form has been linked to an increased risk of mouth and throat cancer, not to mention heart disease and other serious conditions. Chewing tobacco can even lead to more decay, as many tobacco formulations contain sugar.
- Use an antibacterial mouthwash: When used with brushing and flossing, an antibacterial wash can reduce the build up of plaque.
- Have frequent check-ups: Keeping your teeth in tip-top shape as you age requires a few common sense practices. It is also important is to see a dental care professional regularly, as he can provide even more oral care tips. So don’t skip your check-ups.
- Adjust your dentures: As we age our gums and jaw bone are getting smaller and thinner. Dentures made to fit your gums can start to get loose as the gums and underlying bone shrink. If your dentures are poorly fitting, causing you pain, discomfort, and frustrations due to slipping get them checked by your dentist. Ill-fitting dentures and often be adjusted to give a more comfortable fit. If the ill fit is due to gum shrinkage the dentures can often be relined giving you back your “bite”. If your gums have shrunk and the dentures have worn, unfortunately they don’t last forever, you might need new dentures, but just think, being able to chew again comfortably with out the problems of loose teeth.