With advanced age come a variety of senior health challenges, including problems that can negatively impact oral health. While there are many benefits to getting older, it’s important to be cognizant of dental problems that can be caused by or exacerbated by prescription medications, lifestyle changes and other age-related factors that are common to seniors.
The following are three dental problems common in older adults, and ways you can prevent and treat them.
Dry mouth is characterized by a reduction in saliva production that leaves teeth more susceptible to harmful bacteria. However, contrary to popular belief, this problem is not a natural side effect of getting older. In many cases, the culprit is prescription medication, including those for hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes, Parkinson’s and other conditions that are prevalent in seniors. Even an over-the-counter decongestant can cause dry mouth, which – if left untreated – can lead to gingivitis, decay and tooth loss. You can help ward off excessive dry mouth by chewing sugar-free gum, reducing your intake of carbonated sodas, caffeine and alcohol. You can also increase your daily intake of water (at least 10 8 oz. glasses per day) and put a humidifier in your bedroom at night. Most important of all are regular dental check-ups, so your dentist can remove plaque build-up and apply a fluoride treatment to help prevent cavities.
Arthritis that affects the hands or fingers can make it painful to maintain proper oral hygiene. When brushing and flossing isn’t routinely performed, you are more susceptible to periodontal disease, which typically presents with very red, bleeding or swollen gums. Caused by bacteria and a buildup of plaque, gum disease can progress rapidly if left unchecked, leaving patients with recessed gums, exposed tooth roots and a high risk of tooth loss. The best way to prevent this dental problem is by maintaining regular oral hygiene practices and visiting your dentist for periodic cleanings (and root scalings if needed). Some seniors find that electric or ultrasonic toothbrushes and water picks make brushing easier and less painful to perform. If you are wearing dentures or a bridge, ask your dentist to ensure the fit is correct, as this can also contribute to gum inflammation.
Tooth decay goes hand-in-hand with dry mouth and a lack of routine cleaning. While you may associate cavities with young children, adults over the age of 65 are at increased risk for this problem, particularly if they suffer from chronic dry mouth. In addition, many seniors don’t see the dentist as often as they should (at least once every 6 months), which means small cavities can worsen dramatically, requiring more invasive restorations. Oral hygiene should be an important part of your health regimen, along with a balanced diet and regular dental visits. An antiseptic (alcohol free) mouth rinse can be helpful in removing bacteria that cause tooth decay.
It’s never too late to start good dental hygiene practices, and here at Long Island Implant & Cosmetic Dentistry, we’re here to help you achieve and maintain a healthy smile. Dr. Nick and Dr. Elliot have a wealth of experience treating seniors, and offer the best in restorative and cosmetic dentistry solutions, including gum disease treatment, dentures, and dental implants.
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