By Dr Yannopulos · Published January 1, 2019

Aging and dental health

Aging and dental health preview image

Preview image for Aging and dental health

When your age, it becomes even more critical to ensure that you take very good care of your teeth, mouth and gums. Many people believe that as you age your teeth will naturally fall off. However, this is far from the truth. If properly cared for, your teeth can last you as long as you live.

Your mouth undergoes a lot of changes as you age. These changes can lead to development of dental issues which can be difficult to diagnose unless you get regular dental examinations. If you want to maintain a great set of teeth, and maintain your physical health throughout your life, pay attention to your oral health. You would be surprised to find how much of an impact a healthy mouth has on your overall health and well-being.

Your mouth as you age

As you grow older, you may notice that your sparkling white teeth has lost their whiteness and the smile looks lacklustre. This change is caused because of thinning in the enamel that reveals the yellow dentin inside the tooth. Along with the thinning, the enamel itself can get stained over the years by the consumption of red wine, coffee, tobacco, tea etc. External staining can be removed with the help of whitening products. There are dental bleaches that contain peroxide which will lighten the teeth a few shades however, in older teeth the results of this whitening is less dramatic. There are also whitening toothpastes and rinses that can reduce the superficial staining temporarily, but the effects of such products are not long lasting.

If you want to whiten your smile, talk to your dentist on a suitable bleaching method. Some whitening ingredients may make teeth sensitive and different bleaching techniques can have varying results. If the teeth have been stained yellow because of exposure to tetracycline when you were a child, the staining can be stubborn and may need many rounds of bleaching to completely remove.

Teeth cannot be healthy on their own. They need a healthy atmosphere – the gums and other soft tissues of the mouth must also be healthy. Gum diseases such as receding gums, shaky teeth, and eroding jawbone etc. are all contributors to tooth loss in older adults. All of this starts with plaque build-up between the teeth and gums. Gum diseases are often undetected and in older adults it can get worse very quickly. The good thing is that gum disease is treatable no matter what your age. The hardened plaque can be removed with the help of scaling and the infected gum tissue can be treated with antibiotics. In advanced cases of gum diseases, you may need surgery if required.

When you age, you also increase the risk of developing oral cancer especially if you are a smoker. A large number of people who get cancers in the mouth are tobacco users. In fact, with each year a person smokes cigarettes or chews tobacco, the likelihood of developing oral cancer increases significantly. Oral cancer most commonly develops in the lip or the tongue. Men are much more likely to develop oral cancer than women.

Very often, people tend to miss the initial signs of oral cancer. The signs are pretty subtle and easily neglected. During your routine dental examination, your dentist will check for science of oral cancer in the mouth. If you find a small red or white patch that last more than 2 weeks, it may be a sign of cancer and you need to get it checked as soon as possible.

Older adults are also at higher risk of developing other conditions such as yeast infection and herpes in the mouth. These conditions can be painful and affect the ability to eat food and even to talk.

Age can bring a host of health problems for which need you to take medication. Sometimes these medications themselves can have a negative impact on your oral health. Many medications for heart diseases can lead to inflammation of the gums. With good oral hygiene practices, you can combat this to a very large extent. Sometimes, gum inflammation can cause the overgrown gums to cover the teeth completely and will need to be trimmed back with the help of surgery.

Some medications may also cause dry mouth. Having a dry mouth is not just uncomfortable, it also causes bad breath, and make eating and swallowing food very difficult. It can irritate the soft tissues in the mouth and increase the chances of gum disease and cavities. If you have dry mouth, you may start to notice new cavities in the teeth within 3 months.

You can combat dry mouth by chewing sugar less gums. You can also drink a lot of water and hold it in the mouth for a few seconds before swallowing.

How can you maintain and improve your oral health as you age?

The basic oral hygiene tips apply even as you age. The following points can help you maintain a healthy mouth even at an advanced age.

  • Use a toothbrush with soft bristles, and brush in the morning after you wake up and in the night just before you go to bed. You may also use an electric toothbrush, but make sure that you use one with soft bristles.
  • Floss your teeth once a day with regular dental floss or any other flossing tool that your dentist recommends.
  • Those who wear full or partial dentures must take extra precautions to keep them clean. Dentures must be cleaned on a daily basis. Take them out of the mouth for at least 4 hours every single day. It is ideal to remove them from your mouth in the night.
  • If you smoke, quit. There is nothing useful that comes out of smoking, and it puts you at a very high risk for different types of cancers including lung cancer and oral cancer. Not only that, smoking increases your risk of gum diseases, cavities, and tooth loss.
  • Visit your dentist at least once every 6 months. During this visit ask for a complete dental check-up.

These healthy oral hygiene habits can be adopted at any age. By making smart and healthy choices about your lifestyle diet, and bye caring for your mouth and teeth regularly, you will be able to keep your teeth for your entire life.