It’s no secret - advanced age brings with it health issues. And although we pay more attention to body health than oral health, age has a dramatic effect on the mouth and teeth. The problem is that many seniors tend to react to oral health problems instead of being proactive. The fact is, there is much that can go wrong inside the mouth, and when unattended, things can get out of hand quickly. The best approach is the one the dentist told us on our first visit – prevention.
Enamel wears down over the years
Chewing and grinding takes a toll on the teeth, and that doesn’t include damage from broken or chipped teeth. Simply put, teeth gradually wear down with age and with years and years of use. It means that the protective outside layer of the teeth (made of enamel) is dwindling away, with no natural way to regenerate.
Prevention is the key to better oral health - not grinding the teeth; not clenching the jaw; and not biting down on hard surfaces. For those who play impact sports, a mouth-guard is a must. For those who grind while sleeping, a mouthpiece might be the answer. And for everyone, it’s important to avoid acidic foods.
Dry mouth is more prevalent
Seniors will experience a dry mouth as a consequence of getting older, or because of specific medications that are taken. Even at a younger age, saliva is vital in washing away food particles and clearing out bacteria. Without natural saliva, the potential for bacteria to collect and infect is dramatically increased.
Saliva also serves to keep everything soft and lubricated - tissue inside the mouth, the tongue, and the gums. A dry mouth can cause tissue to be irritated and susceptible to cuts or infection. As an antidote, drinking water throughout the day can lubricate soft tissues, loosen plaque, and wash away any bacteria.
Gum health declines with age
Gum health is important at any age, but particularly in the golden years. Health gums anchor the teeth and serve as a barrier against bacteria. Without proper care over the years, gums can weaken, and be vulnerable to disease. Long-term smoking is a serious threat to gum health, and affects overall health.
Gum disease is definitely more prevalent with age. This is especially true for those who did not commit to proper oral maintenance over the years. Regular brushing and flossing will at least fight plaque, tartar, and bacteria. Without proper oral care and maintenance, tooth decay and gum disease are certain.
Increased risks of oral cancer
Like many other cancers, the risk of oral cancer rises with age. However, age is not the only risk factor, as other lifestyle habits can also contribute: use of tobacco products; alcohol abuse; and infections related to HPV. With this mind, it’s essential to visit the dentist regularly, and more so at age 50 and beyond.
For seniors, it’s highly recommended to have regular oral cancer screenings. These are quick, painless, and effective. Short of any symptoms or complaints, screenings are an excellent way to identify any abnormalities and ensure early detection where necessary. Early diagnosis is key to proper treatment.