by Dr. Pooneh Ramezani, DDS
A greater number of older adults are keeping their natural teeth for a longer period of time thanks to dentistry advancements, better oral care tools and improvements in dental health education. Still, it's important to remember that keeping your teeth and gums in good condition as you age may require some special attention.
Common Dental Conditions in Seniors
- Gum disease is an infection of the gums and surrounding tissues that hold teeth in place. The two forms of gum disease are gingivitis, a mild form that is reversible with good oral hygiene, and periodontitis, a more severe form that can damage the soft tissues and bone that support teeth. If left untreated, periodontitis can lead to tooth loss.
- Dry Mouth. This can result from physical changes within the body as it ages, and can also be caused by certain medications.
- Attrition. Years of chewing and grinding can have a serious effect on aging teeth. As enamel wears down, the risk for sensitive teeth and cavities increases.
- Sensitive Teeth. A number of determinants can cause tooth sensitivity, including brushing too aggressively with a hard-bristled toothbrush, worn tooth enamel and a cracked or fractured tooth.
- Tooth or root decay. Often times accompanied by gum disease, the roots of your teeth may become exposed as your gums recede, which leads to an increased rate of decay as you age.
Tips for Maintaining a Healthy Mouth as You Age
- Continue to brush, floss and rinse twice a day! It's never too late to practice good oral hygiene. Choose a toothbrush with soft bristles, and replace it every three months. If you have arthritis or another condition that limits your movements, try using an electric toothbrush.
- Clean your dentures daily. Bacteria can stick to full or partial dentures just like natural teeth so make sure to clean them on a regular basis with cleaners made specifically for dentures.
- Avoid tobacco products and alcohol. In addition to the general health risks posed by the these substances, use can increase the risk for periodontal disease, oral and throat cancers.
- Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water. Certain medications can cause dry mouth, so ask your doctor if other drugs can be substituted. If dry mouth cannot be prevented, drinking water and chewing sugarless gum can help.
- Visit the dentist regularly for checkups and professional cleanings - even if you have no longer have your natural teeth. Professional care helps to maintain the overall health of the mouth and provides for early detection of pre-cancerous or cancerous lesions.
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