Since aging impairs the body and mind, your oral health can suffer as a result. Some of the ways aging affects the oral cavity include periodontitis (gum disease), dry mouth (xerostomia), and cavities–often on the chewing surfaces, between the teeth, and the tooth root. The latter arises because of gum recession which occurs as you age, and because the roots lack the benefit of protective tooth enamel, they are more prone to decay. Also, you may become more sensitive to medication, such as analgesics and local anesthesia that are used for dental procedures as you age.
Aging typically brings with it one or more chronic health conditions. The most common of these are heart disease, cancer, hypertension, diabetes, and arthritis. Others include loss of hearing, vision problems (cataracts), depression, dementia, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (lungs), osteoarthritis, back and neck pain. Some of these can interfere with the management of self-care, such as daily oral hygiene.
So, what do this lack of self-care ability and poor oral hygiene mean for you? A greater risk of cavities, oral infection, and gum disease. With arthritis in the hands and fingers, the simple acts of brushing and flossing can be next to impossible. Now let’s take a closer look at the dental conditions you may incur with the advent of time.
The most common are dry mouth or xerostomia. This happens when healthy levels of saliva are reduced. Xerostomia can arise as a side effect of medication, (and older people often take more multiple medications), cancer radiation to the head and neck, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, and Parkinson’s disease.
With xerostomia, you are more vulnerable to cavities, mucositis, cracked lips, and fissured tongue. With a fissured tongue, you will have grooves on the surface of the tongue that can be shallow or deep. While it is not harmful or contagious, it can be uncomfortable and increase sensitivity to certain foods or drinks. To help you fight dry mouth, drink or sip water throughout the day and limit alcohol or caffeinated drinks, as well as those high in sugar.
The risk for gum disease increases with age, thanks to poor oral hygiene, plaque buildup and stuck food particles between the teeth. As does tobacco use, ill-fitting bridges or dentures, nutritionally poor diets, and diseases such as anemia, cancer, and diabetes. Unfortunately, gum disease is one of the leading causes of tooth loss which increases as you age. A failure to replace missing teeth can, unfortunately, result in an uneven jawbone. When this happens, the rest of your teeth may drift and shift into the open gaps.
You can also experience denture stomatitis. This type of thrush is caused by a yeast or fungus known as Candida Albicans in the tissue under the denture, so if your dentures don’t fit properly and you have poor dental hygiene, you can incur denture stomatitis. Practicing good oral hygiene, keeping the dentures as clean as possible, and medication can help rid you of this condition.
To give you the best chance at avoiding dental issues as you age, the following are recommended:
#1 Increased attention to oral hygiene. For those who have issues with manual dexterity, using rotating/oscillating toothbrushes can be a lifesaver, as can increased fluoride via oral rinses, fluoride toothpaste, or regular applications of fluoride varnish by your dentist. To floss between the teeth, use floss holders or interdental cleaners or brushes. Increasing your dental cleanings and oral exams will effectively supplement your daily oral care.
#2 Maintaining a nutritious diet can go a long way to ensure healthier teeth and gums. Include a variety of fresh fruit and vegetables, lean protein, dairy, and limiting sugars and starches–which provide little in the way of vitamins and mineral–for a healthier smile. To help you fight dry mouth, drink or sip water throughout the day for hydration while limiting alcohol, caffeinated drinks, and those high in sugar.
#3 If you wear removable prosthetic devices, be sure to take them out every evening, inspect them for damage, and clean them thoroughly overnight before putting them back in the morning.
Aging doesn’t have to destroy your smile, but being aware of its impact and doing all you can to protect your health will go a long way to preserving a healthy, confident smile.