It’s common for seniors to face issues when it comes to oral and dental health. The aging process causes changes in all parts of the body, including the mouth, teeth, and gums, but with proper care, your teeth should last a lifetime. Dental care for older adults is so important. Many of these dental problems can be easily identified, solved, or even prevented when you know what to look for.
Common Oral Health Problems in Older Adults
Saliva plays a vital role in maintaining oral health and protects teeth from decay and infections. It’s normal for our mouths to produce less saliva as we age. But some older adults have dry mouth because of medications they might be taking or certain health conditions. Less saliva can lead to oral health issues, such as:
- Problems tasting, chewing and swallowing
- Mouth sores
- Gum disease and tooth decay
- Yeast infection in the mouth (thrush)
The risk of gum disease increases with age. Receding gums is common in older adults. When the gum tissue pulls away from the tooth, exposing the tooth’s base or root, it becomes easy for bacteria to build up and cause inflammation and decay. Gum disease (periodontal disease) is the most common cause of receding gums. However, brushing too hard can also cause gums to recede.
Dental cavities occur when the bacteria in your mouth interact with sugars and starches from the food and beverages you eat and drink and form plaque, a sticky substance around your teeth. Plaque contains harmful acids that attack the surface of your teeth (enamel), which can lead to tooth decay and gum disease.
There are a few reasons why seniors are more susceptible to cavities. They often experience a lot of physical changes in their body. Some of these changes affect overall oral and dental health. Seniors are more likely to have receding gums, which exposes more of their teeth to plaque. Poor oral care is also a concern for aging adults.
Wear and tear
Teeth are strong, but they’re not indestructible. A lifetime of chewing, biting, and grinding wears away the outer layer of tooth enamel and flattens the biting edges. Exposure to acidic foods and carbonated drinks also works to weaken enamel.
The risk of oral cancer increases with age. Years of smoking and alcohol use increase the risk of oral cancer. Other factors that may also increase the risk for oral cancer include poor dental and oral hygiene, taking medicines that weaken the immune system, and rubbing from rough teeth, dentures, or fillings over a long period of time.
Some medical conditions can affect the oral health of older patients. Take Type 2 diabetes, for example. Uncontrolled blood sugar levels can damage or weaken the white blood cells, leaving the body with no defense against oral bacterial infections and other oral problems like cavities, thrush, and periodontal disease. Other medical conditions that can impact dental health include acid reflux, cancer, and cardiovascular disease.
Medication Side Effects
Older adults frequently have multiple chronic health conditions that require multiple different medications. And many of these medications have side effects that impact oral health. Medications can change your sense of taste or cause inflammation, dry mouth, and tooth decay.
Tooth discoloration is a normal part of the aging process. That’s because, over time, the tooth’s enamel wears away, exposing the naturally yellow dentin.
Many people notice that their teeth become more sensitive as they age. This is often because of the wearing down of tooth enamel or untreated dental issues.
How to Protect Your Teeth and Gums
No matter what age you are, consistent and proper dental care is essential to keep your teeth and gums healthy. Here are the best ways to protect your teeth and gums.
Brush and Floss Every Day – Brush your teeth twice a day with a soft-bristle toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste and floss at least once every day.
Don’t Let Your Mouth Dry Out – Drink plenty of water throughout the day. Talk with your physician about medication side effects you experience and ask your dentist about mouth rinses to help with dry mouth.
Limit Sweet and Starchy Food and Drinks – The extra sugar and starch cling to teeth and forms plaque that leads to cavities. So, avoiding them as much as possible can decrease your risk.
Choose Foods That Are Rich With Immune and Bacteria Boosting Foods – Proper nutrition filled with nutritious foods not only makes you feel better inside, but it also promotes healthy teeth and gums.
Get Screened for Oral Cancer
Visit Your Dentist Regularly – Visiting your dentist regularly helps your dentist look for more significant problems, such as gum disease or other oral issues that you may not even realize you have. The American Dental Association recommends that you visit your dentist at least once a year to get a routine examination and cleaning. If you have a history of periodontal disease, your dentist may recommend getting your teeth cleaned more often to prevent the recurrence of infections or disease.
Aging is a natural process and even though it does affect our mouths, gums, and teeth, being aware of these changes and taking preventative measures to protect our teeth is key to avoiding major issues and tooth loss with age.
JR Dental has two convenient locations serving Jacksonville, Florida. We believe in treating our patients with quality care. Our offices are open Monday – Thursday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., and on Fridays from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Call us at (904) 786-5850 to make an appointment today!