Oral care is important at any age, but certain factors make it both more important, and more difficult, to implement as we age and enter our senior years. Yet the need for it is about far more than just maintaining a beautiful smile. If your dental health isn’t good, it can increase your chances of heart disease and diabetes, and impact on your general health.
Decay and tooth loss
Let’s face it – our teeth age with us. Like anything subjected to hard work over a long period, there’s going to be wear and tear. Our teeth have worked exceptionally hard chewing and grinding food all our lives, without so much as a day off.
This takes its toll on the tooth enamel, so upping the chance of cavities. Your gums also recede with age, sometimes exposing the teeth’s roots and opening you to the possibility of root decay.
Saliva defends you against bacteria and helps to rebuild tooth enamel. However, the flow of much-needed saliva can be reduced as you age by many common medications, cancer treatment, or disease. This increases the odds of fungal infection such as thrush, and even of oral cancer.
Gum disease, which can lead to tooth loss, gum and other general health problems, becomes more prevalent. It can be caused by diseases like anaemia, cancer or diabetes; years of poor or incorrect oral hygiene; tobacco use; dentures or bridges that don’t fit properly; or years of bad eating habits. Nearly one in four people in the United States aged between 65 and 74 have severe gum disease which can damage soft tissues as well as the bone which supports the teeth. This happens when an infection forms in pockets between the teeth and the gums.
How to keep your teeth in shape
Have regular dental check-ups: Seeing your dentist regularly increases the chance of catching problems early. This is especially important for disease control, and because fillings you had years before have a shelf life and can either come out completely, or become unstable, allowing decay to form under them.
Maintain good oral hygiene: Be sure to brush your teeth for 2 minutes twice a day with a soft brush and using a fluoride toothpaste. Be sure to clean the gums and any root surfaces that may have become exposed by receding gums. Also floss between your teeth, or use an interdental brush, once a day. Use an anti-bacterial mouthwash to help in the fight against plaque.
Quit tobacco: Tobacco has been linked to mouth and throat cancer. Chewing tobacco is no better – in fact it could be worse as most formulations of tobacco have a sugar content.
Rehydrate: Try asking for an alternative to any medication that dries your mouth; start drinking plenty of water or chew gum that doesn’t contain sugar to stimulate saliva production. Avoid coffee and alcohol, which tend to cause dehydration.
Be alert: While brushing your teeth keep a close eye on any differences in your mouth. These can include redness, swellings or patches, difficulties in swallowing or chewing, numbness, or pain in one ear without hearing loss. Be sure to get your dentist to check up on any changes.