Keeping the Aging Mouth Healthy

Working to keep a healthy mouth is more important than ever for older adults, since most people ages 55 to 64 are keeping some or all of their natural teeth.

Baby boomers need to be aware of special conditions that can affect their teeth and gums, from how medications can affect oral and overall health to how untreated gum disease can lead to tooth loss.

Older teeth are still susceptible to decay, so it's vital to continue a thorough oral hygiene program that includes twice daily brushing and flossing, regular cleanings and exams. Mature teeth are more prone to decay around older fillings and at the gum line (root caries). Fluoride in toothpastes, mouth rinses and many communities' water supplies are still important tools for reducing the risk for cavities.

The risk for tooth decay also increases in people with dry mouth (xerostomia) that can be caused by medications or radiation therapy to the head and neck. A dentist or physician can suggest a variety of strategies that can help patients with dry mouth.

Untreated gum (periodontal) disease may progress slowly and cause little or no pain, but undetected can damage the gums and supporting jawbone, leading to receding gums and loose teeth and tooth loss. Lack of dental hygiene, tobacco use, poor diet choices and medical conditions can also make periodontal disease more severe. Cases of tender or swollen gums, receding gums, loose teeth, bite changes or changes in the way dentures fit, bad breath or a bad taste in the mouth can be warning signs that need to be evaluated by a dentist. Periodontal disease may also be linked to health issues like diabetes, heart disease, stroke and respiratory problems, so it's important for overall health to have a healthy mouth.

Those who smoke or use smokeless tobacco have an increasing risk for developing oral cancer as they age. In its early stages, oral cancer may be difficult to detect, so quitting tobacco and getting regular oral cancer screenings are important in protecting oral and overall health.

Older adults don't necessarily have to give up having a beautiful smile as they age. There are many cosmetic dental treatments that are appropriate for mature teeth, and dental implants and dentures can be both functional and aesthetically pleasing for those who experience tooth loss.

© 2017 American Dental Association. All rights reserved. Reproduction or republication is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission from the American Dental Association.

This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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Common Conditions For ADULTS 55+

  • Gum disease
    This potentially serious condition occurs when the gum tissues surrounding teeth become infected because of a buildup of plaque on the teeth and gums. Gingivitis is the first stage of gum disease and is recognizable by swollen, red or bleeding gums. Gum disease is a concern for older adults for a number of reasons, including plaque building up on teeth and gums from not developing proper oral health care habits earlier in life.

  • Tooth or root decay
    Even at 55-plus years, adults can still develop tooth or root decay if gum recession has occurred. It is important for older adults to effectively clean the gums, the teeth and exposed root surfaces to remove dental plaque and food debris.

  • Sensitive teeth
    At some point, we've all tossed back a nice, cold glass of water only to grimace at that sharp, tingling sensation in our teeth. A number of factors cause tooth sensitivity, including brushing too aggressively with a hard-bristled toothbrush, worn tooth enamel, and a cracked or fractured tooth.