Getting older brings about many changes in the body, and that includes your oral health. As you age, taking care of your teeth and gums is critical for maintaining a healthy smile and good overall health. In fact, more and more studies suggest that older adults with poor oral health are at an increased risk for a variety of systemic health problems, including diabetes and heart disease.
Understanding potential oral health risks associated with aging and ways to prevent them can help keep your teeth bright and your mouth in excellent health for years to come.
Common Dental Problems in Older People
There are myriad health risks for older adults relating to their teeth and gums. Common dental conditions that present later in life include:
- Dry mouth: It’s not uncommon for saliva production to decrease with age. One of the most common reasons for dry mouth in older adults is medication use. Dry mouth can cause problems with chewing and swallowing. Since saliva also helps protect your mouth from bacteria, dry mouth can also increase your risk for tooth decay.
- Discolored teeth: A lifetime of consuming stain-producing foods, smoking or chewing tobacco can cause tooth discoloration or darkening. It is also common for tooth enamel to wear with age, causing the yellow dentin to become visible and dark in appearance.
- Gum disease: About two-thirds of Americans over age 65 have gum disease. Gum disease is an infection of the gum tissues that holds the teeth in place. In the early stages, gum disease — also known as gingivitis — symptoms are usually mild or non-existent, making it hard to detect. Let your dentist know right away if you have red, swollen gums or gums that bleed easily as these are telltale signs of gingivitis. Early detection and treatment can reduce your risk for serious infection and tooth loss.
- Root decay: Many older adults experience tooth decay as a result of plaque buildup. Over time, the gum tissues may start to recede, exposing the roots of the tooth. This increases the risk for cavities, inflammation, sensitivity, infection and tooth loss.
Tips to Support Your Aging Teeth
Fortunately, it doesn’t require a lot of work to keep your teeth and gums healthy as you get older. The following tips can keep your teeth white, strong and healthy over time:
- Brush at least twice a day with fluoride toothpaste. An electric toothbrush is an excellent option for people with dexterity issues.
- Floss daily to dislodge hard-to-reach food and debris that cause decay from between the teeth and along the gumline.
- Clean your dental appliances, such as dentures, daily to keep harmful bacteria at bay.
- Quit smoking or using tobacco products.
- Make nutrition a priority. Limit sugary foods and incorporate well-balanced meals into your diet to keep your teeth healthy and strong as you age.
- Maintain regular visits to your dentist for professional cleanings and exams. Dentists can detect signs of dental problems in their earliest stages to prevent more serious problems down the road.
A combination of proper oral hygiene habits, regular dental visits and a healthy lifestyle can help keep your teeth bright and healthy into your golden years. Your dentist is an excellent resource to reduce the likelihood of developing dental problems as you age.