Aging is more than just wrinkles and gray hair. Every part of the body changes with aging, and the teeth and mouth are not exempt. Aging affects your oral health in many ways, and learning about these changes will help you regain control of your oral health at any age.
Dry mouth also called xerostomia, affects many seniors. Dry mouth, in which the mouth does not produce enough saliva, is more than just an uncomfortable condition; dry mouth can increase the risk of tooth decay. Dry mouth can be caused by a medical condition (such as Parkinson’s) or by medication. Unfortunately, many medications commonly used in the aging population, including blood pressure medicine, cause xerostomia. Treating the symptoms of dry mouth can help prevent the decay associated with xerostomia:
- Drink daily recommended amount of water each day
- Chew sugarless gum
- Limit alcohol intake
Periodontal disease, an infection in the gums, is characterized by red swollen gums that bleed during brushings. While this disease can affect anyone, seniors are more at risk for periodontal disease than any other age group. Bacteria-laden build-up often causes infections. This disease can be reduced or prevented by:
- Brushing and flossing well to remove the buildup: consider an electric brush and pre-flossed flossers for any senior with dexterity issues
- Reduce acidic foods and sugary food
- Avoid smoking
If you or a loved one is at risk for periodontal disease, a good oral care routine can help keep your mouth as healthy as can be.
Problems associated with bone loss
Bone loss, particularly for women, is a frequent complaint of those already experiencing changes associated with age. It is this bone loss that leads to broken hips, but the bone loss can also profoundly affect oral health. Because the root of a tooth needs viable bone to stay firmly rooted in the mouth, bone loss can lead to loose and weakened teeth. Taking a vitamin D supplement is a good option for those who are at risk for bone loss.
Broken dental work
If you have dental work (items such as a crown or bridge), it’s only a matter of time before the piece needs to be fixed or placed. On average, dental repairs last about seven years, which means seniors are more at risk for needing a repair done ASAP. Preventative care is especially important here since dentists can check in on old repairs during regular cleanings and keep an eye out for any signs of a potential problem.
Change in color of teeth
While consuming certain foods (like berries) and drinks (like coffee) can cause staining, aging can also affect the color of your teeth. The enamel of teeth thins over time; as the enamel continues to grow thinner and thinner, the teeth take on a discolored, gray color. Unlike “vanity” stains from drinking too much coffee, a change in color due to thinning enamel is a reason to check in with your dentist: thinning enamel is more at risk for decay.
Aging doesn’t have to be fun per se, but learning how aging affects oral health can help prepare you for a future of stellar oral health.