Oral Health Problems as You Get Older
Your dental health will change throughout your lifetime, but whereas complete tooth loss used to be a given for adults approaching old age, nowadays this is far from the case. Today around three-quarters of adults over the age of 65 will have at least some of the natural teeth. Despite this, problems such as tooth decay, gum disease, mouth infections and oral cancer are still more prevalent in older people. Although it’s impossible to hold back the years, there’s a lot you can do to ensure your mouth remains healthy throughout your lifetime.
The really good news is that when you visit Dr. George Mitrogogos here at Sanford Dental Excellence, you will receive a customized dental treatment plan designed to keep your oral health at optimal levels. Listed below are some of the most common problems affecting older people and some information on how the effects can be minimized.
Dry Mouth (Xerostomia)
One problem that can affect your dental health is taking certain medications including those prescribed by your physician and which can cause side effects including dry mouth or to give it its correct medical name, xerostomia. This problem can also occur as a result of certain medical conditions or treatments that have affected the salivary glands. Most of us take saliva for granted until it is no longer there, as saliva helps to keep your mouth fresh, clean and comfortable and without it your risk of tooth decay, gum disease and mouth infections increases.
When you have insufficient saliva, you are more at risk of bad breath and if you wear dentures they may rub uncomfortably. This is one reason why Dr. Mitrogogos needs to know your medical history, so he can assess the effects of any medications. There are various strategies that can help you cope with dry mouth as for example, Dr. Mitrogogos might suggest more frequent hygiene appointments because keeping your mouth thoroughly clean by removing tartar buildup more often will help reduce the risk of tooth decay, and gum disease. It is possible to buy saliva substitutes over the counter, or Dr. Mitrogogos could prescribe you something suitable. Other tactics that people find useful include sucking sugar-free candies or chewing sugar-free gum because this helps to stimulate saliva flow. Make sure you drink plenty of water and you might find it helpful to have a humidifier in your bedroom.
Tooth Decay and General Wear and Tear on Your Teeth
You can develop a cavity at any age and in older adults, tooth decay can often occur around the neck of the tooth, and this is because of gum recession. As you get older your gums naturally recede, exposing the softer tooth root that is more easily worn away, increasing the risk of tooth decay and infections. Another factor that can lead to cavities developing is due to simple wear and tear on your teeth because over time your tooth enamel will become thinner due to a lifetime of chewing and biting into food. The effects of acid erosion will also weaken your tooth enamel, a problem that can be made worse if you like to eat lots of sugary or highly acidic foods.
This is why regular dental checkups are so important because any chips, cracks or fractures in your tooth enamel or any signs of tooth decay can be treated, hopefully well before a more extensive cavity develops or even a tooth infection that would require root canal treatment. Often the very first signs of damage to teeth can be easily mended with tooth-colored composite resin. It may also be possible to harden your tooth enamel using fluoride applications. Ensuring you brush with fluoridated toothpaste will help, and whenever you brush just spit out the excess toothpaste but don’t rinse your mouth as a thin layer of fluoride ions will remain on your tooth surfaces, providing a little extra protection.
Gum disease or periodontal disease is a serious problem as it is the leading cause of tooth loss worldwide and in the latter stages can affect your general health. It normally develops because of poor oral hygiene which allows harmful bacteria to build up over your gums and teeth, causing inflammation and infection. Eventually, this will destroy gum tissue, the ligaments holding your teeth in their sockets and the bone surrounding your teeth. Unfortunately, periodontal disease has also been linked to serious health problems that include diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, stroke, heart disease and even dementia and some cancers. If you have any existing health problems then these may worsen, or periodontal disease can increase the risk of them developing.
To avoid gum disease, it’s essential to have a good oral hygiene routine that includes brushing your teeth at least twice daily, flossing once-a-day and attending regular checkups and hygiene appointments. However, some older people find it tricky to hold a toothbrush, perhaps due to arthritis or other problems affecting their dexterity and this can make it harder to maintain good oral health. If these problems affect you then talk to Dr. Mitrogogos or to our friendly dental team here at Sanford Dental Excellence for advice on how to maintain good dental health. We can advise you on alternative tools to try, for example, an electric toothbrush can be much easier to manipulate as can an electric water flosser such as a Water Pik.
Oral cancer can develop in the soft tissues in the mouth and throat, and on the tongue. The risk of oral cancer does increase with age and late diagnosis is one of the major problems with this disease. Often the early symptoms or signs are easily ignored or overlooked leading to a much less favorable long-term prognosis. Oral cancer screenings form part of your regular checkups and could potentially save your life. During a screening, Dr. Mitrogogos will carefully check all the soft tissues in your mouth for any changes to the color or texture, or for any lumps, bumps or sore spots. Potential warning signs include sore spots that fail to heal after a couple of weeks, white or red patches in your mouth or changes to the texture of these oral tissues. It can also cause other changes including numbness, changes to your voice, or to dental appliances, for example, dentures may not fit as well as before. Another possible sign is feeling as if something is stuck in your throat, having trouble swallowing, or noticing your voice has changed. If you notice any of these changes in between appointments, it’s always worth getting in touch with us. It’s most likely that the changes are due to something else, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry.
With the right professional dental care combined with a good oral care routine at home, it is possible to maintain good dental health throughout your life, although you may need to adjust the way you care for your teeth. It’s well worth making the effort as you will protect your general health and it is lovely to have an attractive, healthy smile at any age. At Sanford Dental Excellence, we specialize in mature adult dentistry. Contact us today to find out more from the experts!