Life expectancy in America has hit record highs in recent years due to advances in medical technology. It’s therefore no surprise that we’re keeping our natural teeth longer, too. But it’s not a perfect picture: some older adults find it challenging to keep up with a daily oral health routine. They often require more complex dental treatments over time, and are more susceptible to certain diseases. Problems in the mouth may also cause difficulty in basic functions such as chewing and swallowing, or induce a lack of confidence due to a change in one’s appearance or the sound of one’s voice. What special dental problems do older people face? And what can be done to combat these problems?
Dental Concerns of Aging Adults
Here are just a few special dental concerns of adults as they age:
Cavities: A recent study found that nearly one-third of Americans over the age of 65 had untreated cavities. Left untreated, these cavities usually cause severe pain, lead to more complex and expensive procedures, such as root canals, and in the worst case result in lost teeth.
Gum disease: Presently the leading cause of tooth loss in adults, gum disease is a serious problem among many elderly persons. The major cause of gum disease is plaque, the sticky, colorless film of bacteria that forms on your teeth. Poor dental hygiene, poor-fitting dentures, or certain diseases (such as diabetes or cancer) can accelerate gum disease as we age.
Oral cancer: A concern at any age, this disease is seven times more likely to appear in adults over the age of 65, and causes more deaths than skin cancer among older Americans. It is especially prevalent if you have a habit of smoking or using smokeless tobacco.
Dry mouth: Also known as xerostomia, dry mouth is more than simply annoying – it can be harmful to your health. The saliva that your body produces is useful for its lubricating qualities, digestive enzymes, acid neutralizers, and bacteria-fighting agents. In older adults, this problem is often one of many side effects from prescription or over-the-counter medications.
In addition to the problems mentioned above, medications prescribed for other diseases can adversely affect a person’s oral health in a variety of ways. This often leads other conditions (such as diabetes) to worsen, and may even cause whole-body inflammation.
Working Together to Save Your Teeth
Contrary to popular belief, dental problems and tooth loss are not inevitable. In fact, with proper and consistent oral hygiene, your teeth can last a lifetime! What’s involved? A good oral health routine includes the following steps:
Brush your teeth twice daily (with a soft-bristled toothbrush);
Floss every day, or use another type of interdental cleaner to remove food particles from between the teeth;
If using dentures, regularly clean and care for them as instructed;
Eat healthy foods and drink plenty of water;
See your dentist regularly, at least once every six months.
Arthritis and other conditions make routine brushing and flossing challenging. Your dentist can recommend special brushes and floss holders to make daily cleaning easier. Therapeutic mouthrinses or special in-office treatments, such as additional cleanings or root scaling and planing, aid in controlling gum disease. In addition, a thorough screening for oral cancer is included in your routine dental examination. Early detection provides the best chances at combating the disease effectively. If you suffer from chronic dry mouth, a change in medication or using a product designed to combat this problem may provide relief.
Our dentists at the Yuba City Dental Group are committed to making your oral health a priority. Call us for an appointment today at 530-671-4784, or make an appointment with our online scheduler, and we’ll work together to ensure your teeth last for years to come.