Dental health is important at all ages, but it can decline as you get older. Even with vigilant dental care as a child and an adult, problems can emerge later in life. Tooth sensitivity and tooth loss are not just a fact of life as you age. From oral health issues to prevention measures, here are four things to know about dental health.
Oral diseases are common in older people
Tooth decay and other oral diseases are common among people over the age of 65. Many people may not have grown up with fluoride products or water fluoridation to protect their teeth. Older people may also be disabled or homebound, which puts them at risk for poor oral health. After retirement, many people lose dental coverage, and Medicare is not designed for regular dental care. These factors can all contribute to declining oral health.
Teeth can become more sensitive
Gum disease becomes more common with age, with nearly 25 percent of people between ages 65 and 74 suffering from severe gum disease. The severity of gum disease is measured by a loss of attachment of the tooth to adjacent gums. Receding gums expose tooth enamel, which causes sensitivity. Sensitive teeth can be affected by cold or hot food or drinks, cold air and sensitivity to sweet or sour drinks.
Medications can affect oral health
Nearly 90 percent of people over age 65 use at least one prescription drug. Some drugs can cause excessive dry mouth. Dry mouth is not only uncomfortable, but it can lead to cracked lips, a fissured tongue and cavities. People suffering from dry mouth should drink or sip water regularly and limit alcohol and drinks high in sugar and caffeine.
Related link: Seniors Often Face Dental Care Challenges
Oral health can be improved
Toothbrushes can be adapted to make the handle longer or more comfortable to hold. If brushing is difficult, an electric toothbrush can be used instead of a manual one. Daily brushing can help prevent tooth decay and root decay. Cleaning dentures and brushing remaining teeth is also important for oral health. Dentures should be cleaned with a toothbrush and denture cleaner or baking soda, but never with abrasive household cleaners.
Studies show only 50 percent of seniors see a dentist every year. “Regular exams and cleaning are important for people of all ages, especially for seniors,” said Nathan M. Anderson, DMD. “We understand that senior patients present unique challenges. For instance, a long history of poor oral hygiene increases the risk of infection. Also, older patients may be unable to open their mouths wide enough for an exam or have anxiety about the experience. What is most important to us is that we make all of our patients feel safe and comfortable. And we work with family members or caregivers to do what we can to ensure our senior patients get the care they need in a positive and supportive environment.”
Practice good oral hygiene and continue to have regular dental checkups to keep your teeth healthy and happy. Do not ignore sensitive teeth and dry mouth. See a dentist to treat any underlying issues and find ways to improve your overall oral health.
This article was originally published by Orange County Register