Did you know that your teeth and gums change significantly as your body ages? While oral health is crucial to an individual’s overall well-being, it’s a common misconception that losing teeth, experiencing gum disease, or tooth decay is an inevitable part of aging. Your dentist in Antioch, TN, will tell you it doesn’t have to be that way.
Understanding the unique challenges that come with aging and the steps you can take to maintain good oral health can increase your chances of enjoying healthy teeth and gums well into your golden years. Whether you’re a senior or a caregiver, it’s best to explore the impact of aging on oral health.
What Are the Effects of Aging on Oral Health?
Tooth Enamel Loss
As you age, you’ll lose your enamel, the hard outer layer of your teeth. As enamel loss happens, teeth become more vulnerable to decay and cavities. Nearly 20% of people over 65 have untreated tooth decay.
Increased Risk of Gum Disease
The changes in an aging individual’s immune system can make the gum tissue more susceptible to infection. As a result, older patients face an increased risk of gum disease and periodontitis. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirms that nearly 70% of adults over the age of 65 have gum disease.
Higher Risk of Oral Cancer
In addition to an increased risk of tooth decay and gum disease, older adults also have a higher risk of oral cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, around 95% of all oral cancers occur in people over 40, and the risk increases with age.
Changes in Saliva Production
Since saliva neutralizes acids and washes away food particles, it plays a crucial role in protecting teeth and gums. However, as people get older, they produce less saliva. Consequently, decreased saliva production leads to a dry mouth and increased tooth decay and gum disease risk.
What Are the Unique Challenges Seniors Experience?
Older adults face unique challenges when it comes to maintaining good oral health. For example, rheumatoid arthritis significantly impacts an individual’s dexterity, making simple tasks like brushing and flossing challenging.
In addition to physical limitations, older adults with cognitive decline might be more likely to experience tooth loss due to their inability to keep up with oral hygiene. For instance, those with dementia may not remember to brush and floss regularly.
Chronic Health Conditions
Seniors with chronic health conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease, can also impact oral health. The saliva also contains high sugar levels if the blood sugar is high. Since bacteria in plaque use sugar as food, diabetes increases the risk of tooth decay, cavities, and gum disease.
Moreover, some medications used to treat heart disease, such as beta-blockers, can decrease salivary production, leading to dry mouth. Without good oral hygiene and regular visits to the dentist, patients taking these medications will likely experience tooth decay and other oral health issues.
How Can Seniors Maintain Good Oral Health?
Despite these challenges, older adults can take these steps to ensure a healthy mouth:
- Schedule regular dental checkups and cleanings
- Use proper brushing and flossing techniques
- Eat a balanced diet
- Avoid smoking
- Limit sugar intake
- Chew sugar-free gum