Getting older means changes to the body. The mouth is no exception. As we age, our bodies go through various changes that affect tissue and bone in the mouth and increase the risk for oral health problems. These changes include:
- Cells renew at a slower rate.
- Tissues become thinner.
- Bones become weaker and less dense.
- The immune system becomes weaker, making infections more likely to occur.
Compounding this issue is that most older people over the age of 65 have at least one chronic condition. Many have multiple conditions. The most frequently occurring conditions among older persons are hypertension, arthritis, heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. Other medical conditions common to older age include diabetes, dementia, hearing loss, cataracts, back and neck pain, osteoarthritis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and depression. These conditions can affect the teeth, gums, and mouth in various ways.
But with regular cleanings and exams, you can prevent dental issues and keep your teeth for longer. Here’s a look at some common dental issues that you’ll want to avoid in old age.
Cavities occur when bacteria in the mouth changes sugars and starches into acid. This acid attacks tooth enamel and causes cavities. Cavities are common in older adults in part because more adults are keeping their teeth longer. Older adults often have receding gums, so cavities are more likely to develop in the roots. Dry mouth also causes bacteria to build up in the mouth, leading to tooth decay.
Older adults are more at risk for dry mouth due to age, medicine use, and certain health conditions. The mouth produces less saliva as you get older. However, cancer treatment, medications, and certain health conditions can also cause dry mouth.
Dry mouth is an issue because saliva protects your teeth from decay. When your mouth doesn’t produce enough saliva, it can increase the risk for chewing and swallowing problems, tooth decay, gum disease, mouth sores, and yeast infections.
Receding gums are common in older adults. This occurs when the gum tissue pulls away from the tooth, exposing the root of the tooth. This makes it easy for bacteria to build up and cause decay.
Brushing too hard can also cause gums to recede. However, gum disease is the most common cause of receding gums. Severe gum disease is called periodontitis and can lead to tooth loss.
Certain factors can put seniors at risk for periodontal disease:
- Not brushing and flossing every day
- Not getting regular dental care
- Dry mouth
- Weak immune system
Oral cancer is more common in people over the age of 45. It is much more common in men. This type of cancer is primarily caused by tobacco use. Drinking alcohol along with tobacco increases the risk for oral cancer even more!
Other factors that may increase the risk for oral cancer include:
- Rubbing from rough teeth, dentures, or fillings over a long period of time
- Poor dental and oral hygiene
- Taking medicines that weaken the immune system
- Human papillomavirus (HPV) infection
What You Can Do to Preserve Your Teeth and Gum Health
As you age, you need to put more focus into taking care of your dental health. Missing and loose teeth are no fun. They can make it hard to eat and talk. This makes food choices more limited, causing good nutrition and overall health to go downhill quickly.
While good oral care in old age takes a lot of work, it is doable and highly recommended. Focus on DIY care, such as brushing with fluoride toothpaste and flossing twice daily.
research shows that nearly 25% of those over the age of 65 haven’t seen a dentist within the past five years. Regular dental appointments are extremely important. It’s a good idea to see your dentist, at least every six months.
Contact Our North Vancouver Dentist Today
Dental health is important regardless of your age. Even as you get older, you need to take good care of your teeth to keep them for as long as possible.
Contact Blue Sky Dental for preventive care. We can conduct exams and cleanings to keep your teeth clean and healthy and prevent common dental disorders. To schedule an appointment, fill out the online form or call (604) 330-1605.