Studies show a growing number of older adults keeping their teeth longer. That means more people want to save their natural teeth instead of trading them in for dentures.
At any age, it’s important to take good oral health seriously. And as seniors, we need to pay particular attention to the common dental problems that arise during the aging process.
Let’s take a look at five of the most common dental conditions in people ages 65 and older, how we can get them and what we can do about it.
1. Dry Mouth
Dry mouth is the result of dysfunctional salivary glands. Without saliva, your mouth feels sticky, it’s hard to swallow, your throat and lips are dry, and you may even notice a metallic taste. Plus, without the natural cleaning that saliva provides, tooth decay and other oral health problems can occur.
Some medications can cause dry mouth, but there may be an underlying medical condition causing it — which can be determined by a medical provider. To help produce saliva, some people chew dry mouth gum or use a dry mouth rinse.
Sensitive teeth are quick to identify — often with hot or cold food and drinks. You feel a sudden pain or feelings of sensitivity that usually subsides after a minute or two. This can happen for a few different reasons: cavities, fractured teeth, worn fillings, gum disease, worn tooth enamel or exposed tooth root. You can use a desensitizing toothpaste, but ask your dentist for the best option.
3. Gum Disease
Improper oral health care results in gum disease. And depending on the stage of the disease, it may or may not be treatable.
Gum disease starts out as gingivitis. This is the only stage you can reverse the disease because it has not yet reached the bone and connective tissues that hold your teeth in place. After that, it turns into periodontitis. While you cannot reverse the disease at this point, you can still get professional treatment to help prevent it from getting any worse. Advanced periodontitis, however, means the disease will not stop growing and results in complete tooth decay and removal. Read more details about this disease in our article, “A Brush with Periodontal Disease.”
While cavities do happen to people of many different ages, we are even more susceptible as we get older because as we age, the roots of our teeth get softer and more exposed.
When you don’t brush, floss or use fluoride, any sugar you eat (or food that breaks down into sugar) feeds the bacteria in your mouth. The bacteria produce acids that can dissolve your tooth enamel. First, the acid dissolves the calcium and phosphate crystals underneath the surface of your tooth, causing it to weaken. It is when the acidic decay breaks through the enamel that it becomes a cavity and permanently damaged.
When a cavity first develops, you may not notice it right away. But over time, you might start to notice things like pain when chewing, persistent bad breath, tooth discoloration or swelling in the gum near the infected tooth. Cavities are usually an easy fix if they are caught early enough. But if left untreated, the cavity-ridden tooth will fully decay and have to be removed.
5. Oral Cancer
Oral cancer can take on many different forms. It usually starts out as a tiny white or red spot anywhere within your mouth: lips, gums, cheeks, tongue, jaw or throat. If untreated, it can turn into a sore that bleeds easily, a thick or hard lump, or a rough and crusted area. It might also feel numb, painful, or tender and even change the way your teeth fit together when you bite down.
The primary cause of oral cancer is smoking and/or heavy drinking. And if not caught early enough, it’s unlikely that it can be cured. Your dentist should be looking for signs of oral cancer when they do an oral exam, but if you have trouble chewing, swallowing, speaking or moving your tongue or jaw – go to your dentist.
Most of these common dental problems are avoidable. Take charge of your dental health with these recommended oral health tips:
- Brush and floss your teeth daily
- Drink water with fluoride or use a fluoride rinse
- Eat less sugar and foods that break down into sugar (foods with starch)
- Get preventive exams twice a year
Remember, your dental health is tied to your overall health. In fact, dental diseases such as periodontal disease can increase your risk for heart disease and stroke. Just as you should get preventive dental exams, it’s just as important to see your medical provider for preventive wellness exams — the two go hand-in-hand.
Looking for a provider for senior care services? We have several clinicians to choose from. Call us at 512-553-1921.