Guest Post by Darla Scheidt
Growing older doesnâ€™t mean you outgrow your need to visit the dentist. Aging can open doors to a number of challenges that impact oral health and increase the risk for mouth diseases, many of which result from:
- The natural aging process
- Limited access to oral health care
- Increased use of medications
- Changes in diet
- Physical and cognitive changes or limitations that prevent the elderly from receiving proper and timely dental care
Keep reading to learn more about the most common oral health problems experienced by the aging population and how to prevent them.
Dry mouth, also known as xerostomia, is a common condition that affects older adults. A chronically dry mouth can result from the bodyâ€™s physical changes caused by age, as well as certain medications, cancer treatments, and other illnesses. Saliva is the bodyâ€™s natural defense against bacteria that accumulate in the mouth, and without adequate saliva flow, teeth are more susceptible to cavities and gum disease.
Attrition is the normal wear and tear on the teeth that appears after several years of chewing and grinding. The problem with attrition is that as tooth enamel wears down, the risk of cavities increases.
Cavities are not just a problem for children. In fact, according to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, 93 percent of seniors 65 and older have had dental caries in their permanent teeth. One reason the aging population has an increased risk for tooth decay is because they donâ€™t visit the dentist as often as they should, and for that reason, decay goes unnoticed and untreated.
Although oral cancer can occur at any age, it is especially widespread among older adults, particularly those who smoke on a regular basis. In addition to giving up smoking, routine dental checkups and self-examinations at home are the best ways to avoid oral cancer.
A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that more than 70 percent of Americans 65 and older have some form of gum disease, a chronic infection of the tissues that surround and support the teeth.
A major reason that gum disease is so prevalent among older adults is that it often goes undetected until it reaches the advanced stage. Without treatment, gum disease can destroy the surrounding tissues, eventually causing bone and tooth loss. Not only does it increase the chance of losing natural teeth, gum disease can also impact the rest of the body and is linked to other serious health conditions, including diabetes and heart disease.
Root decay is often accompanied by gum disease and occurs when the gums begin to recede. As the gums recede, the porous root surfaces become more susceptible to the harmful effects of plaque buildup and acid attacks, which lead to an increased rate of decay.
How to prevent age-related oral diseases
The good news is that older adults can reduce their risk of developing tooth decay and other mouth diseases. There are many tips and tricks to keeping teeth healthy as you age, with diligent dental care at home being key. To maintain a healthy smile and keep dental diseases at bay, seniors should:
- Brush twice a day using fluoride toothpaste. Older adults may also benefit from an electric toothbrush.
- Floss daily to clean between your teeth with floss or another interdental cleaner.
- Eat a well-balanced diet that incorporates fruits, vegetables and fiber-rich foods.
- Limit your intake of sugary foods and between-meal snacking.
- Avoid tobacco as smokers have a greater risk of developing gum disease than non-smokers.
- Visit the dentist regularly for professional cleanings and oral exams.
- Notify your dentist immediately if you notice any changes in the condition of your mouth, teeth or gums.
As you get older, prevention is the most effective strategy for keeping your teeth and gums healthy and strong. Visiting the dentist for routine checkups is especially important to ward off dental diseases and the best way to identify problems early. By giving extra care and attention to your oral health now, you can go a long way to prevent serious oral diseases and enjoy a healthy, beautiful smile well into your golden years.
Darla Scheidt works at Grove Dental Associates as the Marketing Director. The dentists at Grove Dental are focused on staying on the cutting edge of dentistry to better serve their patients and have over 40 years of experience.