Aging and Dental Health: How Getting Older Affects Your Teeth
Teeth change as you get older. Years of chewing, biting, and grinding change the enamel and gums over time. Actually, aging changes occur in all of the body’s cells, tissues, and organs and can affect all parts of the body, including the teeth and gums. It’s estimated that 71 million Americans, approximately 20 percent of the population, will be 65 years or older by 2030. (Jeannotte L, Moore MJ. The State of Aging and Health in America 2007. Atlanta, Ga.: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; 2007) An increasing number of older persons have some or all of their teeth intact due to improvements in oral health care. However, the aging population is at risk of chronic diseases of the mouth caused in part by other underlying diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, pneumonia, rheumatologic diseases, and autoimmune disorders.
At Hamby Family Dental Center, your dentist in Fuquay Varina, we are experienced in diagnosing and correcting oral issues that are part of the aging process as well as helping you prevent these problems. In this article, we cover how getting older affects your teeth and possible corrective measures you can take for any problems you experience.
How Teeth Change As We Age
The wear and tear over time from chewing, grinding, and biting wears away at the hard, outer layer (the enamel) of your teeth. Even though your teeth are very strong, the enamel can still be flattened on the parts used when you bite and chew. When your enamel is damaged, it can be restored by a dentist. For instance, if your teeth are worn down from a poor bite, orthodontic work may be required. If it is from nighttime grinding, you may need to wear a night guard. Only your dentist can make the right diagnosis and perform the appropriate corrective measures.
Common Dental Health Concerns in Elderly Patients
There are common dental health concerns that elderly patients experience. For instance, the elderly are at risk of chronic diseases of the mouth, including dental infections like periodontitis, tooth loss, benign mucosal lesions, and oral cancer. Some other common oral conditions in the elderly are dry mouth and oral candidiasis which may lead to thrush, lesions from dentures, or angular cheilitis.
Some conditions are caused by changes in saliva. For instance, dry mouth can be caused by an underlying disease or medication, in which case it can be treated with over-the-counter saliva substitutes.
As you move into your golden years, you may experience more cavities. During this time of life, we enter into a second round of cavity-prone years. One common cause of cavities in older adults is dry mouth. Dry mouth, though not a normal part of aging, is a side effect of more than 500 medications, including those for allergies, asthma, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, pain, anxiety, depression, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s diseases. It is important to always let your dentist know of the medications you are taking.
Bacteria in plaque causes gum or periodontal disease in older adults that irritates the gums, makes them swollen and red, and more likely to bleed. Gum disease can be a painless condition until it is in an advanced stage, making it more widespread among adults. When gum disease is left untreated, the gums can pull away from the teeth and form deepened spaces called pockets where food and more plaque collect. Advanced gum disease can eventually destroy the gums, bones, and ligaments that support the teeth and lead to tooth loss. With regular visits to the dentist, gum disease can be treated or prevented entirely.
There are about 35,000 cases of mouth, throat, and tongue cancer diagnosed each year, according to the American Cancer Society. During regular dental visits, your dentist will check for signs of oral cancer. These regular dental visits are important because oral cancer typically doesn’t cause pain in the early stages. Yet, early detection saves lives. Some symptoms that are visible and that you may see include open sores, white or reddish patches, and change in the lips, tongue, and lining of the mouth that lasts for over two weeks.
Maintaining Dental Health as We Age
We typically think about oral health habits in regard to young children. But, it’s extremely important for aging adults to continue good habits like brushing, flossing, and avoiding sugar as well. Additionally, there are some specialized routines applicable to older people that should be incorporated for good oral hygiene.
We have long known that we should brush at least twice a day, but did you know that it is important how we brush our teeth? As we age, our teeth and gums change, which can require changing brushing techniques. Talk to your dentist about how you should brush at every dental cleaning.
Flossing Is More Important Than Ever
As we age, changes in hand dexterity, arthritis in fingers, and reduction is eyesite can make flossing more challenging. But, because brushing doesn’t reach all of a tooth’s surface, flossing remains extremely important. There are many alternatives to traditional string floss that can help when flossing becomes more challenging. For example, water flossers and interdental brushes work very well and may be much easier to use.
Use a Mouth Rinse that Provides Antimicrobial Support
Your dentist can recommend a mouth rinse that is ideal for your dental and medical needs. Many types of mouthwash are only for freshening breath, but others can provide antimicrobial support that helps you maintain healthy gums and prevent cavities. There are also specialized mouth sprays that help if you experience dry mouth from medication.
Make Good Food Choices
Diet impacts oral health. Eating foods that are low in processed and refined sugars and incorporating foods into your diet that include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins can benefit both your oral health and overall wellness.
Keep Regularly Scheduled Dental Checkups
As well as having a good dental health routine at home, you should continue to have regularly scheduled dental checkups. Your dentist and dental team will carefully inspect your mouth for any changes in color and texture. They will analyze the shape of your teeth and gums to detect any problems in the early stages. Checkups twice a year are recommended, but your dentist may recommend more frequent visits if oral health concerns begin to develop. When problems are discovered, a myriad of corrective measures exist that your dentist can employ. Such procedures as dental crowns for cavities, dental implants when teeth are pulled, and root canals for abscesses in order to save teeth are performed by dentists every day.
Maintain Clean Dentures
Many elderly patients need dentures to replace damaged teeth or teeth that have been removed. Dentures come in complete sets or partials. If you have recently been fitted with dentures, you must keep them clean and free from food residue. Routinely inspect your gums to ensure they appear smooth, healthy, and free from abrasions. Brush them daily with a cleaning product specifically for dentures and soak them overnight in a denture cleansing liquid. Removing dentures while you sleep helps to keep your gums healthy.
Check for Oral Cancer
Oral cancer often has little or no pain in the early stages, making it easy to go undetected. Your dental team, however, looks for the warning signs of oral cancer at every dental checkup, even if you are feeling no discomfort.
Here are some preventive suggestions if you are concerned about developing oral cancer:
- Avoid tobacco products like cigarettes, chewing tobacco, pipes, cigars, or e-cigarettes
- Drink alcohol in moderation only
- Use a lip balm with sunscreen
Schedule a Checkup with Hamby Family Dental Center Today
The dental team at Hamby Family Dental Center is knowledgeable in the specific concerns of the aging demographic. We can work with you to maintain your oral health as you age. Contact us today for a teeth cleaning and checkup so we can help you prevent or correct oral issues you may have. Call us at 919-552-2431 or fill out the form below.