Why your oral health may decline as you age and what can you do to prevent it.

The times of losing teeth early in life and full dentures being an often-inevitable part of aging for everyone are luckily behind us. With education, better nutrition, advances in dental technology and a focus on prevention, people can now live out their lives with a full set of natural teeth. That is not to say that aging does not have implications on oral health but there is a lot you can do to prevent its deterioration.

Dental conditions that become more common with age:

  1. Darker tooth appearance

Are your pearly whites looking less white? Unfortunately, that tooth discoloration is associated with age, and the main reason for this is that enamel – which is that hard layer that protects your tooth – wears down as we age and yellow dentin that is lying under enamel, shows through much more. We can see that process even in our childhood when those white, thick enamel baby teeth are being replaced by permanent ones. There are other factors as well, such as food staining, tobacco use or certain medications that contribute to darkened teeth as over the years they have a cumulative effect.

  1. Dry mouth

A nightmare for almost one-third of adults older than 65! Most of the time this condition is associated with taking certain medications to treat some chronic health issues like heart problems or depression. And the more different medications you take, the greater the problem.

Some health conditions like diabetes, Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease are linked to dry mouth syndrome as well.

  1. Gum disease

According to some studies, this can affect as much as two – thirds of population age 65+! Again, this is more likely to develop in people with chronic, age-related medical problems like arthritis, COPD, heart diseases and diabetes. Think of your mouth as a mirror for the rest of your body – when you experience problems with other organs or systems, your mouth will reflect that.

  1. Root decay

Gum disease, dry mouth and tooth decay – it is all connected. Along with gum recessions and more root exposure comes greater risks of cavities in the roots. If you add dry mouth to the equation – those cavities spread like wildfire! Why is it especially hard to control? – there is no enamel to stop the bacteria, just much softer dentin. The distance to affect the nerve is much shorter so the cavity grows very quickly.

  1. Oral cancer

Mouth cancers are more common in older adults with the average age diagnoses being 62. Certain high-risk habits like smoking have a cumulative effect and increase your odds of oral cancer.

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How to keep your teeth healthy as you age

Start making your mouth a priority now – the earlier the better!

Lifelong prevention is the key to healthy teeth and mouth. Brush twice a day for a minimum of 2 minutes and floss daily! Other little tips that will help to keep your teeth longer:

  1. Try using an electric toothbrush

Not only does this toothbrush make it easier to keep teeth clean as it does most of the work for you – especially if you have some dexterity challenges, but it also has a shut-down function if you are pressing too hard against your teeth causing damage to their surface and the attached gums. And if you’re tech friendly, you can use apps to remind you about brushing, tell you when 2 minutes are done or even show you the areas in your mouth that you’ve missed while brushing.

  1. If you use a manual toothbrush – buy one with soft bristles.

And make sure you change it every 3 months!

 

  1. Prioritize preventive dental care at the dental office.

With routine exams every potential problem can be caught early when it is still easy to fix, and does not snowball into a bigger problem.

  1. Healthy lifestyle

As with overall health- healthy, nutrient-rich foods and regular exercise will help to avoid health problems and medications in the long run.

  1. Stay hydrated

Aim for about half your body weight in ounces to counteract a shortage of saliva. Limit caffeine and alcohol.

  1. Quit smoking!