A person’s dental health declines along with the rest of their physical health as they get older. Roughly 100 years ago, older people almost always needed dentures. Even today, about 25 percent of patients over 65 will lose all of their teeth, for older people still suffer higher rates of tooth decay, gum disease, and tooth loss than younger adults. They are also more susceptible to oral cancer.
Cavities are actually now more common in older patients than they are in school children. Part of the problem is plain old wear and tear that causes the protective enamel to become thinner. Older patients are also more likely to develop conditions like arthritis that impair their mobility, which means they will have a harder time brushing and flossing their teeth properly.
Dry mouth or xerostomia is a common cause of cavities in older patients. While it is a common condition in such patients, it’s not a natural part of the aging process. Dry mouth is actually a side effect of the many medications that people take for conditions like high cholesterol, Parkinson’s disease, allergies, and anxiety. The various medicines affect the saliva glands, so they produce less saliva and the patient’s mouth becomes abnormally dry. Dry mouth can also make teeth look dull and stained as there isn’t enough saliva to keep it polished. However, this can also be counteracted with teeth whitening services from cosmetic dentists like the Smile Architects.
Gum disease or periodontal disease often goes untreated until fairly advanced because the early stage, gingivitis, is typically painless. The same bacteria that produce plaque and tartar also irritate the gums and thus cause gum disease. That irritation makes the gums red and swollen. They also bleed more easily. If gum disease goes untreated, the gums will start to pull away from the teeth and create pockets where more bacteria and debris like food particles can accumulate. Severe gum disease damages the tissues surrounding the teeth and eventually leads to tooth loss.
According to the American Cancer Society, about 53,000 people will be diagnosed with cancer of the oral cavity or throat this year – and about a fifth of these patients will die. The average age of diagnosis is 62, and the cancers are far more common in men than in women. Dentists now make a point of screening patients for oral cancer during check-ups, which is yet another good reason to see your dentist regularly. Oral cancer is an insidious disease that does not cause pain during the early stages. Symptoms of oral cancer include changes that last for over two weeks, like sores or reddish or white patches.
The most important thing you can do to protect your teeth is to see your dentist regularly. Since many medications can cause side effects like dry mouth, make certain your dentist knows which medications you are taking. If mobility problems are making it hard for you to brush your teeth, consider getting an electric toothbrush. Good health habits like a proper diet and no smoking will also help you protect your teeth.