As we all age, the nerves in our teeth shrink typically and even more so if there is an atypical enamel wear issue that can make teeth more vulnerable to additional dental problems. This is not a normal aging process but unfortunately, is a common issue.
Improper occlusion (how your teeth come together), any grinding or clenching issue and minor general use combined with certain medications and medical conditions can adversely impact your oral health.
Today and don’t delay” is the best time to take ideal care of your teeth, routine care is essential. Prevention is always most comfortable, least costly, and it preserves your teeth! Being able to eat normally with a full set of teeth helps one have the best nutrition for one’s only oral health and overall health.
There are many myths regarding dental conditions in older people or in an aging population. For example, many people still think that losing one’s teeth is common when you get older. This is not true. Losing teeth is a disease process. If cared for properly, teeth can and will last a lifetime.
How Age Can Affect Teeth:
Certain changes in your body may occur gradually over time as you get older:
- Cells can renew slower than usual.
- Weaker immune systems can increase the risk of infection.
- Tissues can become less elastic and thinner.
- Bones can become weaker and less dense.
These changes can impact the bone and tissue in the oral cavity and may lead to future dental problems.
Common Oral Problems in Older Adults
1. Dry Mouth
A dry mouth is a typical oral health issue in the older adult population. Saliva helps clean and wash away food debris and bring your mouth back to a neutral pH after eating; therefore, your saliva helps protect teeth from decay and damage and keeps gums healthy.
However, saliva production can decrease with age, and one of the most common reasons for this is medication use. The results can be anywhere from replacing the decreased flow of saliva by simply drinking more water throughout the day to fully life-altering issues where xerostomia (a condition with no saliva flow) can put one’s teeth in dire risk of rampant decay and tooth loss.
Common causes of dry mouth are:
- Certain medications that can decrease your saliva production
- Health conditions including stroke, diabetes, and Sjogren syndrome can affect saliva production
- Cancer treatment may cause dry mouth
Dry mouth can increase your risk for:
- Yeast infection(s) (thrush)
- Gum disease
- Tooth decay
- Difficulty tasting, chewing and swallowing
- Mouth sores
2. Gum Disease
It is estimated at least 75% of the adult population has gum disease. Gum disease is an infection of the gum tissue that holds and protects the teeth. A major reason for this is that gum disease or gingivitis is not painful! If you have ever seen any bleeding (even just a little) with brushing and flossing, that is a visual sign that you have gingivitis. Oral bleeding is NEVER normal. Gingivitis is highly transmissible, and the bacteria that cause gingivitis is unfortunately shared between partners. It has two stages:
- Gingivitis: It is an early stage of gum disease that can be reversed with good oral hygiene and professional treatment. It is mostly caused by bacteria found in plaque, which irritates the gums and makes them red and more likely to bleed. If not treated, it can lead to periodontitis. Please note, one may have gingivitis, you may not see any bleeding on your own. As your dental care provider, we are readily able to explain all your oral conditions and needs specific for your mouth.
- Periodontitis: It is when the bone and supporting structures around teeth have been affected since the gingivitis had not been treated for a period of time. On a dental film or X-ray, bone loss is visualized, and often, the first sign of a problem for a person is that tooth roots are starting to show in the mouth. It is not attractive but still doesn’t hurt until it often is very advanced, and teeth are mobile. Your gums may begin to recede, and if not treated, it can lead to tooth loss. The thing is periodontal problems have a particular odor. Usually, the person affected cannot smell it because the smell is always with them. Sometimes one can feel embarrassed to discuss this issue as well as other specific issues, but we assure you, we are professionals & we provide a number of periodontal treatment options to help you look and feel your very, healthiest best!
Factors that can increase your risk for periodontal disease are:
- Poor oral hygiene- Remember, we are in charge of our own oral care.
- Poor dental care - Routine dental care will help keep you in excellent overall health.
- Weak immune system - Eat right, sleep right, and get exercise daily!
- Smoking and Vaping – Quit tobacco use to protect your oral health.
- Uncontrolled Diabetes - Eat right and take your medication, follow all directions.
- Dry mouth - If on medications, ask your medical doctor if there are alternatives.
As one ages, your gums may recede from improper brushing, bite issues or illness, and exposed root surfaces of your teeth, making them more vulnerable to decay and cavities. Also, if one suffers from decreased saliva production, this creates a more acidic environment that is necessary for bacteria to cause decay and attack teeth causing cavitation and holes. People with dry mouth have an increased risk of developing cavities.
4. Oral Cancer
The chance of oral cancer increases with risk factors. These are some of the risk factors that can increase your risk for oral cancer:
- Smoking and tobacco use
- Drinking Alcohol
- Poor oral hygiene
- Taking medication that can weaken your immune system
- Human papillomavirus (HPV) infection - ask your medical doctor about the vaccination that is available to protect your teen and young adult child.
- Rubbing soft tissues (on the cheeks and gums) from rough teeth, fillings, or dentures for a long period of time. When you have a sore, consult your dentist for advice and solutions.
Tips to Protect Your Teeth and Gums
The following tips will help you protect your teeth and gums:
- Brush twice a day minimum and floss at least daily
- Using an electric toothbrush
- Limit the intake of sugary foods and beverages as they can produce an acidic environment in your mouth.
- Limit the intake of sticky foods as they can contribute to bacterial growth.
- Avoid (even artificial) sweeteners, as they can increase the risk of diabetes.
- Eat a well-balanced diet
- Quit smoking
- Visit your dentist regularly
When to See a Dentist
A dental exam is advised at least every six months to help prevent extensive issues.
You should schedule an immediate appointment with your dentist as soon as you experience:
- Tooth pain
- Mouth sores
- Poorly-fitting dentures
- Bad breath
- Red or swollen gums
- Loose teeth
- Dry mouth
- Red or white patches in the mouth
Age-related dental problems are not typical. They are a part of a disease process and can impact your quality of life and cause problems with your speech and self-esteem.
Contact us today or schedule an appointment with our dentist in Scottsdale, AZ to diagnose and treat you routinely. Catching problems early is the key to quick and the most economical fixes!