Guest Post by Charlie Culp
One of the biggest misconceptions about aging and oral health is that it inevitably results in a set of poor-fitting dentures or tooth loss. Fortunately, getting old doesn’t mean your teeth have to suffer. In fact, older adults are keeping their teeth longer than ever before. Here’s a look at common dental problems faced by adults over 50 and what you can do to prevent them.
Cavities aren’t just a concern for young patients. In fact, senior citizens enter a second round of cavity-prone years as the roots of the teeth become weak and more exposed. Healthy oral hygiene habits at home — brushing after a meal, flossing daily and scheduling routing dental cleanings — can help prevent undetected tooth decay from causing cavities and other serious problems.
Like cavities, gum disease also can be an issue among the older population, especially those over age 40. As plaque builds on the teeth and along the gum line over time, it can irritate the gums, making them swollen, red and more likely to bleed. In advanced stages, gum disease can destroy the gums and bones supporting the teeth, which leads to tooth loss. To combat gum disease, visit your dentist regularly and report symptoms of gum disease to your dentist right away. Although it is a major cause of tooth loss in adults, gum disease is preventable and even reversible in its early stages.
The chance of developing oral cancer increases as you age. Smokers and those who use chewing tobacco are the most common group at risk. In its early stages, oral cancer can be difficult to detect, which is why regular dental exams are so important. Any abnormal symptoms such as open lesions or white or reddish patches should be discussed with your dentist right away. The best ways to prevent oral cancer are to avoid using tobacco products and visit your dentist for regular oral cancer screenings.
Persistent Dry Mouth
Dry mouth is another common problem that many seniors experience. It is often caused by certain medications, but can also be the result of smoking, certain diseases or damage to the salivary glands. Without adequate saliva, leftover food particles and bacteria remain on the teeth, eventually turning into harmful acids that eat away at enamel and increase your risk for cavities and gum disease. You can prevent dry mouth by increasing your water intake during the day and chewing sugar-free gum. Your dentist and physician may also recommend over-the-counter saliva substitutes and modifications in certain medications if the problem persists.
Your teeth will shift during the course of your life, and crowding may occur. This can cause a variety of dental problems, including increased risk for decay and gum disease as a result of food getting trapped between teeth. Teeth may also become so crowded that it is difficult to brush and floss them properly. Your dentist may recommend adult braces to correct the improper bite, enhance your natural smile and improve your oral health.
Tips for People Over 50
- Brush twice a day with fluoride toothpaste and a soft-bristled toothbrush. If a manual toothbrush is difficult to use, consider using an electric toothbrush.
- Clean between your teeth once a day with floss or another interdental cleaner.
- If you wear full or partial dentures, clean them every day and remove them at night.
- Avoid tobacco products, which put you at a greater risk for oral cancer and gum disease.
- Eat healthy, nutritious foods that promote a healthy body and mouth. Limit the amount of sugary foods you consume to keep cavities and gum disease at bay.
- Visit your dentist regularly for routine cleanings and oral exams.
Getting older may present new health challenges, but with the right attitude and a good understanding about your aging teeth, it’s easy to maintain a lifetime of healthy teeth and gums. If you brush and floss every day, follow a healthy lifestyle and visit your dentist for routine care, there’s no reason why adults over 50 can’t enjoy a full set of teeth long into their golden years.
Author bio: Charlie Culp is a dentist at Culp Dental, a practice in Rock Hill, South Carolina. He graduated from Clemson University with a bachelor’s degree in Biological Sciences before attending dental school at Medical University of South Carolina. Culp graduated in 2011, and is currently licensed in both North Carolina and South Carolina.