Today, many elderly adults can proudly say that they have all of their natural teeth. How did they do it? More often than not, just a lifetime of good dental hygiene and routine dental visits. But as you get older, maintaining your oral health becomes more challenging, and you may have to step up your game.
Certain conditions of aging increase your risk of dental problems, but by knowing those risks and putting your dental hygiene into high gear, you can prevent these complications.
According to the Academy of General Dentistry (AGD), 25 percent of adults between the ages of 65 and 74 have severe gum disease. Because periodontal (gum) disease damages the bone and tissue surrounding your teeth, tooth loss can result if left untreated. Diabetes, osteoporosis and smoking can also further existing gum disease.
Be aware, however, that bacteria in your mouth are the culprits. With a consistent homecare routine and regular cleanings at your dentist's office, you can fight this bacteria and prevent gum infection.
Dry mouth is a common complaint as well among older individuals. A decrease in saliva can come as a side effect of medications, cancer and radiation treatments or some other underlying disease. Saliva neutralizes the bacterial toxins in your mouth, and without it, these germs can build up on your teeth or any exposed root surfaces. Just when you thought the cavity-prone years were over!
Limiting sugary foods and regular brushing and flossing are vital, but your dentist may also recommend a prescription-strength fluoride toothpaste like Colgate® Prevident® 5000 Booster Plus for extra cavity protection. Moisturize by drinking plenty of water, chewing sugarless gum, sucking on lozenges and even making sure your nasal passages are clear so your mouth doesn't do all of the breathing.
Worn-Out Dental Work
Like it or not, if you're getting older, so is your existing dental work. Old fillings that were installed years ago can start to leak or break down, causing decay underneath. At the first sign of sensitivity or pain, see your dentist. Extensive treatment, like root canals and crowns, can be prevented if leaky or broken fillings are restored early enough.
Your risk of oral cancer increases as you age. In fact, it occurs more commonly in patients over the age of 40, explains the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. However, your biggest risk factor is smoking and drinking alcohol; remember that it's never too late to make lifestyle changes. Your dentist can screen for oral cancer at regular dental checkups, and when caught early, it can be successfully treated.
Overcoming Obstacles to Good Dental Hygiene
If painful arthritis or another physical limitation makes brushing and flossing more difficult for you, your dentist can suggest dental products to simplify homecare while still cleaning your teeth effectively. Electric toothbrushes, special bristle patterns, floss holders and interdental cleaners are a few alternatives that can make a big difference to your oral hygiene.
Mouth health isn't always a top priority for a busy hospital staff. So during a hospital stay, it may be necessary for you or your family to request special assistance with your oral hygiene needs. If you've chosen to enter a nursing home, the AGD recommends inquiring about the quality and consistency of the dental care provided at the facility.
No-Fail Formula for Keeping Your Teeth
Brushing twice a day with fluoride toothpaste and flossing daily is as essential now as it was when you were younger, and you never outgrow your need for regular dental checkups and cleanings. At theses routine visits, your dentist will check for decay, broken or leaky fillings, monitor the health of your gums, conduct an oral cancer screening and advise you on how to handle any challenges you might have at home.
If you're a senior who prefers to feel and act younger than you are, you can ensure your oral health keeps up.