Good dental hygiene habits are important at any age, but you might face certain issues in your senior years when it comes to oral health. Luckily, your dentist and other medical professionals can help you successfully meet most of these challenges.
Oral Health for Seniors
Medically Reviewed By Colgate Global Scientific Communications
How Aging Impacts Dental Health
Aging impacts every area of your health, and your teeth are no exception. Even without any known medical problems, natural wear and attrition can cause gums to recede and teeth to become more vulnerable to decay. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 34 percent of U.S. adults ages 65 and older have lost six or more teeth to gum disease and tooth decay. You don't have to be a statistic. Learn about the oral health issues adults face as they age, and talk to your dentist about how you can keep your teeth strong and healthy for as long as possible.
Dental Concerns for Aging Adults
As you age, certain oral health issues require more of your attention. Listed below are some of the top dental concerns older adults face.
Tooth decay can develop at any age. However, wear and tear from years of use can cause the tooth enamel of older adults to weaken. This puts them at greater risk for cavities. Similarly, if gum recession has occurred, the root surfaces become exposed, increasing the chances of root decay. Effectively cleaning the gums, teeth, and exposed root surfaces with fluoride toothpaste will remove dental plaque and food debris and help strengthen teeth to prevent decay.
Gum disease infects the bone and tissues that surround the teeth and varies in severity. The CDC reports that about 2 in 3 adults aged 65 years or older have gum disease. This condition begins as gingivitis with swollen, red, or bleeding gums. Still, it can progress to periodontitis, which causes tissues to recede, bone to wear away, and teeth to loosen or even fall out. With the proper treatment from your dentist, you can reverse the effects of gingivitis before they lead to more serious problems.
Getting older does not necessarily cause your mouth to become dry. However, certain aging features — such as medications or chronic conditions — can increase your risk for dry mouth. And with a dry mouth also comes an increased risk for cavities. Your dentist can recommend methods for restoring moisture to your mouth, and you can also try working with your physician to find a medicine or dosage that doesn't dry up your saliva.
Because of issues like gum recession and weakened enamel, tooth sensitivity can also become a problem as you age. If you experience sensitivity to hot, cold, sweet, or sour foods, try an anti-sensitivity toothpaste. If the problem persists, see your dentist, as the sensitivity might indicate a more serious condition, such as a cavity or a fractured tooth.
Even if you already require full or partial dentures, you should still prioritize your oral health. Follow all your dental professional's instructions for caring for your dentures, including cleaning them daily, storing them in liquid overnight, and visiting the dentist regularly for signs of wear or damage. You also need to take care of your gums, brushing them before you insert your dentures, watching for signs of redness or swelling, and letting your dentist know immediately if your dentures are uncomfortable.
Oral cancer occurs most often in people over the age of 40. However, treatment works best before the disease spreads. Though pain is not usually an early symptom of the disease, regular dental check-ups can allow your dentist to screen for oral cancer. You should still see your dentist for regular oral cancer exams even if you no longer have your natural teeth.
Other diseases that occur in older adults can also have an impact on oral health. Those diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease can forget how to take care of their teeth or why it's important. Caregivers will need to monitor their oral health and make sure they are practicing good dental hygiene.
Osteoporosis is another common medical issue, which causes the bones in the body to lose density. When the bone density in the mouth decreases, teeth can become loose. Regular dental x-rays can help screen for osteoporosis, as dentists can use them to help identify those with lower than normal bone density. This is another reason to keep regular dental appointments as you age.
How to Take Care of Aging Teeth
Because of these dental concerns, you might find your teeth need some extra attention as you age. Depending on your unique oral care needs, your dental professionals can provide specific tips for caring for your teeth and mouth. Keeping up with good hygiene habits, visiting your dentist regularly, and making adjustments to your routine as your body changes will help you keep a great-looking smile for life. By understanding the dental risks that come with aging, you and your dentist can work together to help prevent any oral health problems — because a healthy smile looks great at every age.
Oral Care Center articles are reviewed by an oral health medical professional. This information is for educational purposes only. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist, physician or other qualified healthcare provider.