Unfortunately, ageing will affect your teeth along with the rest of your body. Teeth are supposed to last a lifetime, but they will only do so if you have put sufficient time and care into their upkeep. Interestingly, changes in oral health can be a key symptom of some adult-onset diseases like Type II diabetes.
According to a survey commissioned by the Academy of General Dentistry, 63 % of baby boomers (born between 1949 and 1964) with an oral symptom considered to be a key indicator of a more serious health problem, were unaware of the symptom’s link to the condition. For example, poorly controlled diabetes can result in chronic periodontal infections.
People who develop good oral hygiene habits early in life stand a good chance of keeping their teeth later in life. Many believe that dentures are part of growing older, but this is simply not true. Studies have shown that maintaining a healthy mouth may keep your body healthier and help you avoid diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. The best way to achieve good oral health is to visit your dentist for a check-up and cleaning at least twice a year.
Brush at least twice a day with fluoride toothpaste and a soft-bristle brush, and remember to floss daily to remove plaque between teeth and below the gum line that your toothbrush cannot reach.
Common dental problems in older adults
Gingivitis: Gingivitis is caused by the bacteria found in plaque that attack the gums. Symptoms of gingivitis include red, swollen gums and possible bleeding when you brush. If you have any of these symptoms, see you dentist immediately. Gingivitis can lead to gum disease if problems persist.
Periodontal (gum) disease: Three out of four adults over age 35 are affected by some sort of gum disease. In gum disease, the infection becomes severe. Your gums begin to recede, pulling back from the teeth. In the worst cases, bacteria form pockets between the teeth and gums, weakening the bone. All this can lead to tooth loss if untreated, especially in patients with osteoporosis.
Dry mouth: Also called ‘xerostomia’, dry mouth is caused by improperly functioning salivary glands. This is often caused by disease, certain medications, or cancer treatment. Dry mouth can make it hard to eat, swallow, taste and speak. You can mitigate dry mouth by drinking lots of water and avoiding sweets, tobacco, alcohol and caffeine. Your doctor or dentist may be able to prescribe medications to fight severe dry mouth.
Oral cancer: Oral cancer most often occurs in people over 40 years of age. If you notice any red or white patches on your gums or tongue, or sores that fail to heal within two weeks, contact your dentist immediately. Oral cancer is often difficult to detect in its early stages, when it can be cured easily. Dentists can diagnose oral cancer by performing a head and neck exam.