Mark Twain once said, “Do not complain about growing old. It is a privilege denied to many.” However, when aging changes the ways your body feels and acts, it can be hard not to utter the occasional complaint. For example, did you know how aging could affect your teeth? More importantly, do you know how to keep a healthy smile even into old age?
Common Effects of Normal Aging on the Mouth and Teeth
What happens to your teeth as you age depends in large part on the way you have used them throughout your life. After decades of daily use, mechanical changes lead to gradual thinning of the enamel. Because you are still chewing, biting, and possibly grinding, the thinned enamel is now at a heightened risk of damage. The American Dental Association (ADA) refers to this time as entering a “second round of cavity prone years.” Why?
As you age, your nerves get smaller therefore, your teeth are not nearly as sensitive as they used to be. You might not feel problems associated with tooth decay as early as you did in your 30s and 40s. And the sodas you like to drink on a hot summer day? Acidity and sugar are damaging the enamel. The same goes for the oranges you love to eat (and which are healthy). You might mitigate some of the acidity by following up with a piece of cheese to cancel it out. Even so, biting down on a bone can now lead to a crack that goes deep and allows bacteria easy access to the teeth’s pulp. Infections at this level aggravate tooth loss.
Loss of Taste or Feeling
Age also changes the ways you experience food. As taste sensations gradually weaken, you might try to make up for the perceived blandness by adding more spices. Some begin eating their foods hotter to regain some mouth-feel they are now missing. It is therefore not unusual to experience burns to the gums. These burns can become mouth sores, which are painful and may discourage you from following a strict oral care protocol.
As you get up there in years, there can also be a decrease in saliva. The glands gradually reduce their production of saliva. This is normal. Depending on the medications you take at this point, you might find that this problem becomes amplified by dry mouth – at Klement Dental, we call this xerostomia – which is a common side effect of various medications. A dry mouth causes a host of other problems. Because the saliva does not wash away bacterial build-up as it used to, there is a good chance that you may notice the development of plaque, which is a precursor for gum disease. If this condition goes on unchecked, receding gums, cavities, and tooth loss are possible consequences.
If gums recede, they may expose the teeth’s roots. This condition results in their susceptibility to inflammation and wider damage.
A Quick Look at the Ways Unhealthy Aging Changes Teeth and Gums
Aging is also the time when year or decade-long habits or health problems catch up with you. Some of these are habits you know you should have stopped a long time ago. Others sneak up on you. For example, you know that long-term smoking is bad for you. However, as you age, it can take a toll on the overall health of your gums.
Brushing your teeth too hard, or using the wrong type of toothbrush, is another habit that will eventually cause serious damage. In this case, it may lead to a receding of the gums that is made worse by aging.
Some health problems you cannot do anything about. Diabetes mellitus, or Type 1 Diabetes, is a lifelong illness that can lead to gum disease as the body ages. For the individual who fails to be on top of their routine dental visits, there is the possibility of the development of pus pockets that may lead to infections.
Speaking of oral care, do you follow your dentist’s recommendation of visiting the office twice a year? If not, there may be problems that are getting more serious in this short time span. Book your appointment now!
Embracing the Changes of an Aging Mouth
It is not all doom and gloom. Sure, reading up on how aging can affect your teeth sounds like there is little that stands between you and a normal aging process. That said, your actions today could have a strong effect on your current teeth and future aging.
How to Keep a Healthy Mouth and Smile Well into Old Age
There are some suggestions that sound familiar that you may have heard about for decades now. However, they have no expiration date.
- Brush twice a day with toothpaste that contains fluoride. Moreover, the ADA suggests using a brush with soft bristles.
- Flossing should happen once a day (at least) and after eating foods that get stuck between teeth. Examples include ribs or blueberries.
- If you have a hard time using regular floss, we recommend trying flossers that slide easily between your teeth and are great to throw in your purse or wallet for a quick clean on the go.
- Cut down on foods and beverages that have sugar in them.
- If you have been smoking or using chewing tobacco, quit.
- And, as you have heard since you were a child, visit your dentist for regular dental checkups.
Even so, there are four recommendations you may not have heard before.
- Seek help with dry mouth. Whether it is a side effect of medications or simply aging, now is the time to find new ways of dealing with it. Aside from hydration, there are tooth-friendly chewing gums containing xylitol that can increase the saliva content of the mouth. While you are at it, cut out caffeine; it also leads to a dry mouth.
- Follow up on bad breath. If you have been covering it up with mints, take the time to follow up on it. It may be a warning sign.
- Do not live with ill-fitting appliances. Whether it is a removable partial, set of dentures or a dental bridge that seems to cause problems, do not ignore it. These appliances cause mouth sores that may cause you to shy away from proper brushing. Remember also to keep any removable appliances spick and span.
- Investigate tooth or mouth pain. When you were younger, you probably did not pay much attention to little twinges of discomfort. Now, err on the side of caution. Work with your dentist to follow up on tooth pain, teeth that feel loose, and even minor discolorations. You may get in front of a problem that is easy to deal with today but could become a much larger issue in the future.
There is plenty of good news. Whereas just a century ago aging seniors expected to need dentures, today’s advances in oral health care are causing changes to that status quo. More and more people over the age of 65 now keep some or even all of their teeth.
Treat Yourself to Healthy Teeth While Aging
Are you naturally frugal? Do you prefer to “walk it off” when something hurts or just add another piece of duct tape rather than buying a new thing? We hear you. However, as you age, it is time to put yourself first. Aging gracefully means accepting that some things no longer belong on the back burner. Your oral health is an excellent example. You already know that fluoride in toothpaste is a good thing. It assists with strengthening the enamel. Knowing that, go ahead and invest in mouth rinses that also contain fluoride. Discuss with your dentist the application of fluoride varnishes as part of your regular twice-a-year routine.
If you find that brushing adequately with your toothbrush is not as comfortable as it used to be, buy that electric one you have been eyeing. They last for a long time and make tooth brushing comfortable and easy. Most models now come with timers, which further make the process of oral care easier.
Tooth whitening is not something you only do when you are young. Quit wasting time and money with trays and other at-home products. Have your dentist customize a whitening regimen the expert can do right there, in the office. It has the advantage of being safe, consistently monitored, and adjusted for your unique needs. Best of all, it can lift some of the stubborn stains you did not think would come out.
This may also be the time that your dentist talks to you again about grinding your teeth (bruxism). They may have mentioned it in the past, but you did not do anything about it. It is easy to deal with this issue. Simply ask your dentist to fabricate a custom night guard that minimizes the involuntary wear on your chewing surfaces. It is an excellent step to take for protecting the enamel of your teeth.
By the way, did you know that fillings have somewhat of an expiration date? They age. In some cases, they fail. The professionals at Colgate explain that old-fashioned amalgam fillings can last for about two decades – if everything goes right. In contrast, composite fillings, which are more attractive because they hide in plain sight, may only last about a decade or slightly longer. If it has been a while since you had them put in, talk to your dentist about possibly replacing outdated fillings.
Paying for Oral Health Care When You Are Older
Investing in yourself is always a good idea. However, why not take advantage of the dental insurance your employer offers? If you are on Medicare, you may be able to get the services paid for through a Medicare Advantage Plan.
Another option is the purchase of dental coverage through senior citizen organizations. While some dentists offer payment plans, others also provide access to low-cost lenders that make medical loans for these procedures.
Every insurance plan is different, and when you are looking at what options are available to you please give the office a call so we can answer any questions that you may have about different plans. Klement Family Dental also has a discount plan for all patients without insurance, so that those who do not have an option of an employer insurance plan can still get the dental care they need. Learn more about this here.
A Word of Encouragement for Caregivers
If you have the opportunity to care for a loved one who is aging, remember to pay close attention to the individual’s oral health.
- Establish healthy routines. Encourage the seniors in your care to brush their teeth after enjoying a meal. At least once a day, they should floss. Choose a time that works for everyone. If you are out and brushing your teeth is not possible, encourage swishing lukewarm water in the mouth to remove particles.
- Buy suitable care tools. Even if your loved one is a die-hard hard bristle aficionado, it is time to bring in the soft bristles. Replace them as needed. Moreover, consider the selection of floss that works. If the string floss is getting too cumbersome, consider soft picks or a water flosser. For the senior who wears removable appliances, assist with a daily care routine.
- Make the appointment. It is another item to put on the calendar, but it is crucial. Unless otherwise directed by the dentist, your loved one should visit the dental office twice a year.
In many cases, you may have to be somewhat proactive. For example, a steak lover who suddenly pushes away from the table without even a couple of bites may have dentures that are no longer fitting well. If you notice your loved one flinching as you assist with oral care, take a look. It may be time to visit the dentist just for a consultation.
Most importantly, take pride in your loved one’s oral health. Encourage teeth whitening or the decision to get dental implants rather than maintain the removable appliance.
In short, teeth are an investment well worth protecting. And, with today’s technology and advances in oral health care, it is entirely possible to do so. Contact us today to find out more!