Your dental health, just like your overall health, changes as you age. With these changes, comes new opportunities for dental problems. Although many people take it for granted that they will someday lose all their teeth, this is not the case. In fact about 75% of people over the age of 65 are now able to keep at least some of their natural teeth.
Although individuals over the age of 65 are able to keep more of their natural teeth, they are still at an increased risk for gum disease, dental decay, oral cancer, mouth infections, and tooth loss. Just like various other parts of the body, your teeth and gums will change over time.
Part of keeping your teeth healthy while you age is understanding what is happening to them while you age. By understanding how your teeth change with age, you can take specific steps to prevent dental issues and preserve your oral health. Let’s take a look at the aging mouth:
After a lifetime of biting, chewing, gnawing, and grinding up your food every meal, you teeth will inevitably begin to wear down and the biting edges will begin to flatten, losing their shape. Your enamel also wears down as a result of biting and chewing, but also as a result of being exposed to a lifetime of acidic foods and beverages.
Additionally as your enamel becomes thinner, the middle layer, known as the dentin, will begin to show through. The dentin layer turns yellow with age and some medications can intensify this process. This means that your teeth will have an overall more yellow color than they did before. Finally, as you age the nerves within the pulp, or innermost layer of your teeth, will begin to lose their sensitivity.
With age your gums will gradually begin to recede and expose the root of your tooth. You may also develop periodontal disease which can cause loose teeth and deterioration of the jawbone in addition to receding gums. Signs of gum disease include: gums that bleed while brushing or flossing, loose teeth, and bad breath. Additionally, you gums may look red or puffy.
Certain medications (specifically antihistamines, anxiety medicines, appetite suppressants, blood pressure medicines, diuretics, antidepressants, and certain pain medications) can cause dry mouth as a side effect, meaning that your mouth will produce less saliva. Saliva helps to keep your mouth feeling comfortable, fights bacteria, prevents bad breath, protects your tooth enamel, and makes it easier to chew, taste, and swallow.
Depending on your lifestyle choices, your soft tissues may or may not be in the best shape. Tobacco users may develop white or red patches on the lip, tongue, or bottom of the mouth. Additionally, older individuals are more likely to develop sores around the mouth that may be caused by the herpes virus or yeast infections.
Now that we have an understanding of the types of changes your mouth undergoes as you age, let’s look at how these changes can be attributed to the cause or worsening of certain dental problems.
Due to enamel that has been worn down after years of use, your teeth may be more likely to develop cracks or fractures in the enamel that could allow bacteria into the pulp, or innermost layer, of your tooth. This can cause the pulp to become infected, which would result in needing to undergo a root canal to save the tooth. This can also happen as a result of gum recession. When your gums recede, they expose the root tissue of your tooth, which is much softer than the rest of your tooth. This means that it is more prone to tooth decay. Add in a lack of saliva, and you have the perfect cocktail for tooth decay. In fact, it has been found that only three months of dry mouth can cause new cavities to form.
Furthermore, because the nerves in your teeth lose their sensitivity with age, you may be unaware of this infection until it has progressed. However, one good thing about losing nerve sensitivity is that your teeth will not hurt as much after having a dental procedure.
Gum recession and a lack of saliva are two common factors that can contribute to periodontal disease. As your gums slowly begin to recede, bacteria can start to fester in your gum pockets. Because periodontal disease rarely has symptoms until the advanced stages, it often develops unnoticed. The lack of saliva also means that more bacteria remain in your mouth, making it easier for this bacteria to collect in your gum pockets.
If you have used tobacco during your lifetime, you may be at risk for oral cancer. The longer you used tobacco and the older you are, the bigger the risk. Most oral cancers develop on the lips, but the tongue is the second most common location for oral cancer to develop. Oral cancer can also develop on the cheeks, bottom of the mouth, hard and soft palate, sinuses, and throat.
In case that wasn’t enough, let’s now look at how your dental health can negatively affect your overall health. While these conditions are not directly caused ONLY by gum disease or gum inflammation, prolonged exposure to bacteria in the mouth can increase the severity of the following medical conditions:
● Heart Disease
● Respiratory Problems
What You Can Do To Maintain Your Dental Health as You Age:
Make the Switch to Electric
If you have trouble with using the proper brushing or flossing technique due to arthritis or other problems, then you should switch to an electric toothbrush. Electric toothbrushes will do most of the work for you and help keep your teeth clean.
Fight Dry Mouth
You will also want to combat dry mouth by drinking lots of water and briefly holding it in your mouth before swallowing. Sucking on sugar free candy or chewing sugar- free gum is another way to keep the saliva flowing. Finally, you will want to avoid consuming things that can further dry out your mouth such as caffeinated beverages, tobacco, and alcohol.
Smoking has a wide array of consequences. I’m sure you’ve been told this time and time again, but quit.
Visit Dr. Sadati REGULARLY
Of course, regularly brushing your teeth twice a day for two minutes at a time and flossing once a day will help to maintain your dental health. In addition, however, it is imperative that you attend regular dental checkups, at least once every six months unless Dr. Sadati advises otherwise. These checkups will identify possible problems early on and get you the care you need before it is too late and your lose your teeth.
For the best dental services in Wellington and all of South Florida, schedule a consultation with Dr. Sam S. Sadati today!