Oral health is important for patients of all ages, but there are many problems that become more pressing in older patients. Seniors are more likely to experience trouble with lost teeth, denture care, discoloration, and periodontal disease. Understanding the hazards that are unique to seniors will help you get a better idea of how to address and prevent these issues.
Dry Mouth or Xerostomia
On average, your body should produce more than a quart-and-a-half of saliva each day. This helps break down food, wash away bacteria, prevent tooth decay, and protect against bad breath. If your mouth is too dry, you may experience myriad problems, from minor discomfort to major problems with cavities.
Dry mouth, also known as xerostomia, is caused by many medications that seniors take. Since roughly 90 per cent of people over the age of 65 are on some type of medication, dry mouth is particularly common in this age group. Infections, hormone changes, allergies, and blocked nasal passages can all lead to dry mouth as well.
Seniors often struggle with bad breath, which can make social situations uncomfortable. It’s important to understand that bad breath isn’t a symptom that stands on its own. There’s an underlying cause that you need to address, which can help you eliminate this issue. Dry mouth and periodontal disease can both contribute to bad breath.
Poor dental hygiene is another leading cause. You should see your dentist twice a year, and brush and floss daily to keep your teeth clean. If you have dentures, make sure you’re as vigilant about cleaning them as you would be about real teeth. Plaque can build up on both dentures and teeth, and this is a major contributor to unpleasant breath.
Tooth loss is a common problem among seniors. On average, patients over the age of 65 have 18.9 teeth remaining. Over 27 per cent of seniors have no remaining teeth. Smoking and poor dental hygiene are major contributors to tooth loss in this age group. See your dentist regularly to decrease your chances of losing teeth. If you do lose a tooth, visit your dentist as soon as possible to explore options that will help preserve your ability to eat, talk, and smile comfortably, such as a tooth implant.
Over time, it can become easier for cavities to develop in your teeth. This puts seniors at a higher risk. Consuming foods high in sugar will increase your chances of getting cavities. You can help prevent them by limiting sugary drinks and foods, and brushing and flossing your teeth daily. Using an antiseptic mouth rinse will help protect your teeth from cavities as well.
Poor Denture Care
Some people fall victim to the myth that dentures aren’t as delicate as regular teeth. In fact, your dentures require just as much care and attention as real teeth would. You should brush and clean them regularly to avoid damage and discoloration. Plaque can build up on dentures as it would on any other tooth, and this may irritate your gum tissue and lead to gum disease and other problems.
Remove your dentures after every meal and rinse them off to get rid of food particles. Brush your dentures each evening and place them in a cleaning solution to soak. Brush your gums gently with a soft-bristled brush to keep them clean and healthy as well.
Gum disease is a common problem in the aging population. This can take years to develop, so older citizens are more likely to experience problems with gum disease than younger people are. The best way to prevent gum disease is to practice good oral hygiene. Visit your dentist regularly so you can catch developing gum disease early, before gingivitis develops into periodontitis.
Only 26 per cent of seniors in Canada report seeing a dentist at least once every two years. As many as 16 per cent have not seen a dentist in more than five years. Don’t overlook the importance of professional dental care.
A slight darkening of the teeth is a natural effect of aging. While proper dental care can help prevent this, some discoloration may be inevitable. Avoid tobacco products, coffee, soda, and tea to help keep your teeth as white as possible. If you’re not happy with the appearance of your teeth, you may want to talk to your dentist about cosmetic services that can help. Tooth whitening services or permanent dental veneers can help you achieve the look you’re after.
As you age, it’s important to keep these potential risks in mind. Getting older may increase some risk factors, but you can still enjoy a bright, healthy smile with the right care and help from your dentist. Our network of dentists will help you find the right one to keep your smile shining at any age.