You’ve had your teeth for a long time. Just think of all the food those teeth have bitten into and chewed up throughout the years. A lot. And they’re not done yet! That’s why it’s so important to continue to take care of your teeth as you age. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, one quarter of adults over the age of 65 have lost all of their teeth. But you don’t have to be one of those people. If you take care of your teeth by brushing, flossing and seeing your dentist regularly just as you did growing up, your teeth will remain strong and healthy as you grow old.
Baby Boomer and Senior Dental Care
The baby boomer population is a big one. People are living longer, and living healthier more active lives. Baby boomers are also keeping more of their natural teeth. Long gone are the assumptions that people will lose teeth as they age. That simply doesn’t have to be true. What is true is that the care of a person’s body, including your teeth, needs to be a focus. Eating healthy, exercising, and taking care of your body is important to help ward off the illnesses and conditions that are associated with (but not limited to) aging. Bacteria and plaque continue to harm your teeth and gums, and tooth decay may also be associated with serious medical conditions such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, pneumonia and other health problems common in older adults. So maintaining a healthy mouth as a senior also means maintaining a healthy body well into the golden years!
Cavities and Tooth Root Decay
If you think you’ve gotten all the cavities you could ever get when you were a kid or even a young adult, think again. Changes that occur with aging make cavities a senior adult problem, too. As you age, gums have a tendency to recede, or pull back from, the teeth. This not only exposes more tooth surface for plaque to attack, but it can also expose your tooth roots to plaque. The surface of your tooth is covered with enamel, which is hard, but your tooth roots are covered with cementum. Because cementum is softer than enamel, plaque can attack it easier and faster, which leads to the decaying of the tooth root.
Decay around the edges of fillings is also common for older adults. Many older adults didn’t have fluoride in their water or have much preventive dental care when they were growing up, so many of them have a lot of fillings in their mouths. As people age, these filling may weaken or fracture. These fractures are perfect little hiding places for bacteria that can lead to decay.
As a senior, you may not think you have tooth root decay or cavities, because you have no pain. Don’t be fooled. You may. As you age, the nerves inside your teeth become smaller and less sensitive, so you may not even feel any pain from a cavity. And by the time you do feel the pain, the tooth may be beyond repair, and you may lose it. Periodontal disease, a disease of the gums that makes them swollen, red and more likely to bleed, is also painless until the advanced stage. If left untreated, periodontal disease can eventually destroy the gums, bone and ligaments supporting the teeth. And that leads to tooth loss.
The good news about cavities, tooth root decay, gum disease and periodontal disease in seniors is that they can all be avoided by maintaining a consistent brushing and flossing regime, and by visiting your Dental Associates dentist regularly.
Dentures versus Dental Implants
When you lose your teeth, you can still have something to smile about. With today’s advances in dentures and dental implants, there’s absolutely no reason you should have to go without teeth. Teeth are vital for making sure you get the appropriate nutrition by being able to chew your food, for helping you speak properly, for upholding the integrity of your facial features, and for helping you feel good about yourself. Dentures and dental implants from Dental Associates will help you do that.
Dentures are removable dental appliances that fit into the mouth over your gums. They are custom made to match the structure and form of your mouth. They are constructed of a plastic plate that holds fabricated teeth. Dentures fill the gaps created by lost teeth, and also help the facial and jaw muscles continue to work in the fashion they are supposed to. Partial dentures are dentures that cover only part of your mouth. They’re held in place with clasps that grab onto remaining natural teeth. Dentures may take a little getting used to, but they should fit comfortably, allow you to speak properly, chew your food thoroughly, and allow you to live your life with a smile. Learn more about dentures.
A dental implant is a permanent solution for missing teeth, whether you have one tooth missing, or all of your teeth missing. An implant is not removable, and the procedure entails implanting a small titanium rod into the jawbone as a replacement for the root portion of your missing tooth. The implant acts as a natural root, so it helps preserve the jawbone. Once the dental implant is placed in the jaw, the replacement tooth (or teeth), is permanently connected to the implant. The result is a real looking tooth that acts, feels and looks just like a real tooth. Learn more about dental implants.
Oral Health and Heart Disease
The American Heart Association published a Statement in April 2012 supporting the link between gum disease and heart disease. Periodontal Health (www.perio.org) takes that finding one step further to report that gum disease is associated with a greater risk of developing other diseases or experiencing certain events, too:
- Coronary artery disease: 2 - 4 times greater
- Stroke: 2 - 3 times greater
- Adverse pregnancy outcomes: 4 - 7 times greater
- Diabetes: 2 - 4 times greater
- Chronic respiratory disease: 2 - 5 times greater
The evidence is not clear as to exactly how or why there is a link between gum disease and these conditions, but there’s enough evidence to take notice, and keep brushing and flossing. It could be that bacteria in the mouth gets into the bloodstream through the infected gums of gingivitis. Or, it could be related to the body's natural responses to infection, which is swelling; as oral bacteria travels through your body, it may trigger swelling in the blood cells, which leads to the narrowing of arteries. Whatever the reason for the connection, all signs point to keeping up good oral habits. Brushing and flossing your teeth and seeing your dentist regularly is simply good for your mouth, good for your heart, good for your body, and good for your life!
Pacemakers and Your Dentist Visit
If you have a pacemaker or other implanted defibrillator cardiac device, you can still go to the dentist. And you should. Simply speak to your dentist about your pacemaker, as well as any other general health issues, including medicines you’re taking and treatments you’re receiving. In all cases, your dentist will tailor your care according to your medical needs. In the case of having a pacemaker, a pacemaker uses electrical impulses to help the heart maintain its proper rhythm, so your dentist may avoid using certain equipment that may interfere with your pacemaker’s efficiency.
Medications and Oral Health
As people age, they go through a second round of cavity susceptibility. Naturally receding gums and old fillings are a couple reasons why seniors can get cavities. Medication, more specifically a side effect of some medications called dry mouth, is another reason. Saliva in your mouth acts as a rinse. It helps keep food from sticking to your teeth as well as helps wash away the acid that’s produced by plaque. When you experience dry mouth, those foods are more apt to stick around, and so is the acid. And that means a greater potential for tooth decay.
To alleviate dry mouth:
- Use over-the-counter oral moisturizers, like spray or mouthwash
- Drink more water, and don’t wait until you’re thirsty.
- Use lozenges or sugar-free gum to stimulate saliva production
- Get a humidifier to help keep moisture in the air
- Avoid foods and beverages that irritate dry mouths, like coffee, alcohol, carbonated soft drinks, and acidic fruit juices
- Ask your physician if you can adjust the dosage or take a different medication
Osteoporosis and Oral Health
If you have osteoporosis, you may be taking an antiresorptive agent to help with your condition. Make sure to talk to your dentist about your condition and tell him what medications you’re taking for it. There is a rare, but serious condition that affects the jaw, called osteonecrosis, which can occur when taking an antiresorptive agent. While osteonecrosis of the jaw can occur spontaneously, it’s more common after dental procedures like having a tooth extracted or any other procedure that affects the bone or associated tissues. But the risk of developing osteonecrosis of the jaw is very low. If you have osteoporosis, or if you are taking antiresorptive agents for the treatment of osteoporosis, you still need to see your dentist. And you should especially see your dentist if you are considering treatment for osteoporosis. Your Dental Associates dentist will establish the best oral health maintenance or treatment plan based on your condition and treatment of that condition.
Oral cancer is another reason to visit your dentist regularly as a senior. According to the American Cancer Society, there are about 35,000 cases of mouth, throat and tongue cancer diagnosed each year, and the average age of those diagnosed is 62.
When you visit Dental Associates, your dentist will check for signs of oral cancer. They’ll look at your lips, jaws, cheek lining, gums, front part of your tongue, floor of your mouth beneath your tongue, the hard palate that makes up the roof of your mouth and your throat. As with gum disease, early stages of oral cancer typically don’t cause pain. So early detection means early intervention, which means a saved life. If you visit your dentist regularly, they’ll be able to see changes in your mouth that may be cause for concern.
Between visits, if you have any of the following for more than two weeks, contact your dentist:
- A sore or irritation in your mouth that doesn't go away
- Red or white patches inside your mouth
- Pain, tenderness or numbness in your mouth or lips
- A lump, thickening, rough spot, crust or small eroded area
- Difficulty chewing, swallowing, speaking or moving your tongue or jaw
- A change in the way your teeth fit together when you close your mouth
Besides brushing, flossing and seeing your dentist regularly, quitting smoking and using tobacco products, as well as reducing your alcohol consumption, is key to preventing oral cancer. Learn more about tobacco and oral health.
Paying for Dental Care
Your teeth are a vital part of you body. And just like the rest of your body, they should be taken care of as you age. As you get older and look to retirement and living on a fixed income, also look to maintaining your oral health and making sure you continue to visit your Dental Associates dentist. There are various resources to help offset the cost of dental care, including the CarePlus Gold Plan, a dental insurance plan specifically designed for retirees and seniors. A little planning prior to retirement and a commitment to keep visiting your Dental Associates dentist will keep your smile healthy and happy for the rest of your life! Learn more about CarePlus dental insurance for seniors.
Get Started Today!
If you’re ready to see one of our dentists, visit our Locations page to find our dental clinic near you. Call the clinic of your choice and tell them you’re interested in an examination with a dentist. Or, Request an Appointment here.
Dental Associates Wisconsin Clinics
|Appleton - North|
|Fond du Lac|
|Green Bay - Howard|
|Milwaukee - Beerline B|
|Milwaukee - Downtown|
|Milwaukee - Miller Park Way|