Importance of Mature Adult Dentistry
Time takes its toll on our oral health, and with Americans in general now living longer, it’s crucial to pay extra attention to our teeth and gums as we get older.
According to the government, the number of people in the U.S. aged 65 or over is expected to hit the 98 million mark by 2060 – almost a quarter of the population.
Older people are at greater risk of oral health issues including:
- Gum disease.
- Tooth decay.
- Tooth loss.
- Mouth infections.
- Oral cancer.
Dentists who specialize in mature adult dentistry have a wealth of experience in the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of oral health problems that typically affect older people.
The importance of mature adult dentistry is underscored by health experts at Harvard Medical School1. They point out that more oral care is necessary to keep your teeth and gums in good condition in later years.
Gum Disease in Older Adults
Gum disease (periodontitis) is caused by a build-up of bacteria-ridden plaque on the teeth and gums and is the leading cause of tooth loss among adults. Two in three people in the U.S. aged 65 or older suffer from gum disease, which is a particular concern if a healthy diet and good oral hygiene were lacking in earlier years.
Infection from gum disease attacks the soft tissue and bone supporting your teeth, and can spread to other areas of the body, including vital organs.
The AAP2 (American Academy of Periodontology) says all adults should get an annual comprehensive periodontal evaluation (CPE) to identify any signs of gum disease and enable early treatment.
Tooth Decay and Tooth Loss as We Get Older
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention3 (CDC), 96 percent of people aged 65 or over have had a cavity, and one in five has untreated tooth decay. Nearly 20 percent of adults aged 65-plus have lost all their teeth.
Regular dental check-ups play a crucial role in preventing cavities and tooth loss in later years.
Although dentists will do everything possible to save a tooth, sometimes an extraction is the only option. It’s essential to replace missing teeth to avoid problems such as deterioration of the jawbone, which will weaken if not supporting a tooth.
A large part of mature adult dentistry is focused on tooth replacement systems such as dental implants and full or partial dentures.
Mouth Infections in Older People
Dry mouth (xerostomia) is a condition that occurs when your mouth doesn’t produce enough saliva. It’s often a side effect of prescription or over-the-counter medications for older people or caused by radiation treatment for cancer.
Because saliva does an important job in flushing out bacteria, dry mouth increases the risk of tooth decay and can lead to thrush (yeast infection), resulting in cracked lips or split skin at the corners of your mouth.
In severe cases of dry mouth, medication may be prescribed to stimulate saliva production.
The First Line of Defense Against Mouth Cancer
Cancers of the mouth – oral cavity and oropharyngeal cancers – are prevalent in older adults. Mouth cancer is particularly dangerous because the initial stages may not be apparent to the patient – it can often develop without pain or other symptoms. Mouth cancer also carries a high risk of spreading tumors.
Dentists provide the first line of defense against mouth cancer, and survival rates are good when the condition is detected early. Dentists diagnose 90 percent of all neck and head cancers.
If you notice lesions or lumps in your mouth or have trouble swallowing, tell your dentist as soon as possible. If your dentist discovers a suspect area of tissue, they can take a sample and send it for a biopsy.
How to Lessen the Risk of Oral Health Problems as You Get Older
Although aging makes you more susceptible to oral health issues, you can take certain measures to help safeguard your teeth and gums. It’s advisable to:
- Find a dental practice with a focus on dentistry for mature adults.
- Maintain regular dental visits for check-ups and professional cleanings.
- Brush your teeth twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste.
- Floss daily to clean between your teeth.
- Limit snacks rich in sugar or starch.
- Avoid smoking.
Cosmetic Dentistry Options to Help You Stay Young-Looking
As well as helping to keep your teeth and gums healthy, mature adult dentistry can also give you an awesome smile makeover.
For instance, older people get orthodontic problems as well as kids, and removable Invisalign aligners are a popular alternative to conventional fixed metal braces.
Research indicates that eight in 10 adults in the U.S. believe their teeth straightening treatment has significantly improved self-confidence. It’s estimated that 25 percent of Invisalign patients in the U.S. are adults.
Other cosmetic dentistry options that can benefit older people include:
- Teeth whitening. Professional teeth whitening is more effective than over-the-counter whitening agents or bleaching kits.
- Dental veneers. These tooth-colored shells are fixed onto the front of teeth to mask stains or chipping.
- Lumineers – highly-durable, ultra-thin and translucent veneers that look like natural tooth enamel.
- Fountain of Youth Dentures. This advanced denture technology can take years off your facial appearance.
Benefits of Mature Adult Dentistry
As we get older, it’s imperative to be extra vigilant about oral health, because of the accumulative effects of everyday wear and tear on our teeth, and the increased risk of gum disease.
Even if you’ve always practiced good oral hygiene, you may notice with aging that your gums are becoming thinner and starting to recede. Your teeth also get thinner and more vulnerable to damage as you get older. You may find that your teeth have become more sensitive or are showing signs of yellowing.
The importance of mature adult dentistry is underpinned by the fact that dental health is connected to your overall wellbeing. For example, severe cases of periodontal disease have been linked to heart disease, lung problems, and diabetes.
An experienced dental practice specializing in comprehensive mature adult dentistry4 can take care of all your oral health needs without having to refer you for treatments elsewhere. This helps you to build a solid relationship with your dentist as they become a lifelong partner in your complete oral healthcare.