Senior Oral Health
Maintaining good oral health is important at every stage of life. However, it’s important to realize that there are health issues to be mindful of at certain stages. Aging impacts overall oral health, so during Older Americans Month in May, people all around the country are helping spread the word about how seniors can take care of their teeth so that it positively impacts their overall health too! Read on to learn issues that mature adults should be aware of relating to oral health.
Senior Oral Health Issues
The four main areas of concern for aging adults are cavities, dry mouth, tooth loss, and oral cancer. However, with regular visits to our caring dentists, we can help keep your mouth healthy as you age!
As people age, the gums can recede or pull back from the teeth. This exposes more tooth surface, as well as tooth roots. While teeth are covered with a hard protective covering called enamel, the roots of the teeth are not. This means that plaque can attack the soft cementum of tooth roots and cause root decay. Gum disease will also contribute to recession and root decay.
Decay around the edges of fillings is also common for older adults. Growing up, you may not have had fluoride in your water, so you probably have more fillings than other Americans will have when they age. Over time fillings may weaken or fracture, and these fractures are perfect hiding places for bacteria that can lead to decay.
More than 500 medications can cause dry mouth, so it’s possible you’re taking one of those medications! The saliva your body naturally produces acts as a rinse, washing away food particles, as well as acid that’s produced by plaque. Therefore, a reduction in salvia can lead to more cavities. Common medications you may be taking that can cause dry mouth include those used to treat allergies, asthma, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, pain, anxiety, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.
Here are some ways to prevent dry mouth:
- Use over-the-counter oral moisturizers, like a spray or mouthwash.
- Drink more water, and don’t wait until you’re thirsty.
- Use sugar-free lozenges or gum to stimulate saliva production. Sugar-free gum with a main ingredient of xylitol provides a double benefit, since xylitol helps prevent cavity-causing bacteria from sticking to teeth.
- Get a humidifier to help keep moisture in the air.
- Avoid or minimize consumption of foods and beverages that irritate dry mouth such as coffee, alcohol, carbonated soft drinks and acidic fruit juices.
- Ask your physician if you can adjust the dosage of your medications or take a different medication.
According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, adults over age 65 have lost an average of 13 of their 32 teeth. However, tooth loss is preventable! Regular dental check-ups and cleanings twice a year help preserve remaining teeth and provide care for any dentures, bridges, or implants.
Tooth loss can be caused by decay, gum disease or as a result of injury, cancer or simply wear over time. One reason gum disease is so widespread among adults is that it’s often a painless condition until the advanced stage. If gum disease is left untreated, gums can begin to pull away from the teeth and form deep spaces called pockets where food particles and more plaque may collect. Advanced gum disease can eventually destroy the gums, bone and ligaments that support the teeth, leading to tooth loss. If you do experience tooth loss, full or partial dentures and dental implants are procedures to replace missing teeth and give you back your smile.
According to the American Cancer Society, nearly 50,000 cases of mouth, throat and tongue cancer are diagnosed each year. The average age of those diagnosed is 62.
At every routine exam at a Dental Associates clinic, our dentists will perform an oral exam to check the lips, gums, tongue, cheeks and roof and floor of the mouth for signs of cancer. The most common symptom is a persistent mouth sore that does not heal within two weeks. If you have persistent mouth pain and a white or red patch on the gums, tongue, tonsil or lining of the mouth, see a dentist immediately.
You can decrease your risk of oral cancer by brushing, flossing and seeing the dentist regularly, quitting smoking, stopping the use of chewing tobacco and snuff and reducing or eliminating alcohol consumption.
Overall, a healthy mouth as a mature adult begins with regular care and cleaning throughout your life—but it’s never too late to start maintaining good oral health! Talk to your Dental Associates dentist to learn how you can have a healthier mouth no matter your age.
Learn more about Older Americans Month.