As we age, some health concerns demand our full attention, such as the importance of seniors’ oral health. Stories about regrowth of lost permanent teeth are appealing urban legends. Don’t count on a miraculous restoration of your pearly whytes. Your teeth are intended to last a lifetime when you get regular dental checkups and attend to proper home care.
Regardless of your age, it’s possible to keep teeth and gums healthy. Brush twice each day, use a fluoride toothpaste (unless your dentist advises otherwise), floss every day, and see your dentist at least twice each year for cleanings and checkups. If you have periodontal disease, your dentist may recommend more frequent or intensive dental cleanings. Take his or her advice to maintain your dental health.
Older people face a higher likelihood of some conditions or diseases that affect oral health. If you take medicines or manage a chronic health condition, your teeth and gums may be affected. Long-term wear and tear on your teeth may result in the need to wear dentures.
Take action now. Discuss how medicines you take for diabetes, heart disease, or cancer therapy can affect your teeth. With proactive planning, it’s possible to meet many dental care challenges you face in the senior years, including:
Tooth decay is more common on root surfaces in older people, so it’s essential to use a soft brush, use fluoridated toothpaste (unless your doctor indicates you shouldn’t), and see the dentist as often as he or she suggests.
Tooth sensitivity is common in the senior years. Gums are likely to recede and, in doing so, expose part of the tooth that aren’t protected by dental enamel. An exposed part of the tooth may be sensitive to hot or cold foods and liquids. In some cases, cold air may cause sensitivity in the teeth. See your dentist if you experience extreme sensitivity. You may have a fractured tooth or cracked enamel.
Dry mouth may result from a variety of medical conditions or from taking certain medicines. Since saliva protects oral health, a dry mouth may damage your teeth. Ask the dentist to recommend moisturizing products, treatments, and medicines to help restore a healthy level of saliva.
If your health changes between visits to the dentist, update the dentist about any health issues you face. For instance, if you have heart disease and the dentist needs to extract a tooth, you may need an antibiotic course before he or she schedules the extraction. It’s all about keeping you safe.
If you need dentures to chew, follow instructions about how to clean and care for them. Your dentist will need to check the fit of your dentures from time to time.
If you’re over the age of 40, see the dentist to monitor the condition of your gums. Several factors, including poor diet, oral hygiene, chronic or systemic disease (cancer, heart disease, or diabetes), stress, smoking, or medicines can affect the condition and health of your gums. If one or both of your parents had gum disease, you may be at higher risk for it. Your dentist may be able to help you to fight or reverse gum disease if it’s found at the gingivitis stage. See your doctor regularly to ensure detection of gum disease. Prevent gum disease by following the dental hygienist’s instructions about proper oral hygiene.
Lost teeth leave open spaces in the mouth. A crown helps you to protect a damaged tooth and restore its function. It’s a cover or a kind of cap to seal the inner tooth or, in some cases, it’s a way to improve the tooth’s alignment or appearance. A bridge is used to replace a missing tooth or several missing teeth. The bridge spans the space of the lost teeth. Your dentist may offer a permanent bridge that’s cemented to your natural teeth or recommend dental implants to maintain bone health.
In some cases, seniors benefit from orthodontics to straighten teeth that have shifted over time. Orthodontics can restore function and protect natural teeth from decay and crowding.