Maintaining Healthy Mouths in Older Adults
As we get older, it’s normal for our bodies to change, and our mouths are no exception. Adults over the age of 65 are more vulnerable to oral infections, gum disease, and other serious dental issues than their younger counterparts. Luckily, dental care is always improving, and new technology has made it easier than ever to keep your mouth feeling and looking great, even into your later years. At Mill Dam Dental Care, we help seniors in the Virginia Beach area with everything from regular dental cleanings to more intensive procedures. We even offer specialty services like sedation dentistry to ensure that you’re comfortable and get the best care possible while in our office. Here are some of the ways that aging affects oral health, as well as what you should do to keep your mouth healthy for years to come.
How Does Oral Health Change As We Age?
As we age, our risk of serious oral health conditions increases. However, many dental problems in older adults can be prevented or managed with good oral hygiene and regular trips to the dentist. Here are some of the ways that our mouths change as we get older.
- Increased risk of periodontitis: Older adults have a higher risk of developing periodontitis, or gum disease, than younger adults. This happens when the gums start to recede and pull away from the teeth. There are a variety of comorbid health conditions that can increase the risk of periodontitis as well, such as diabetes or autoimmune diseases. Hormonal changes related to menopause can also increase your risk of developing gum disease.
- Cavities: Older adults are also at a higher risk of developing cavities. This happens for a variety of reasons ranging from inconsistent oral hygiene to existing issues with your teeth. Over time, plaque breaks down your tooth enamel, making it vulnerable to cavities.
- Dry mouth: Dry mouth is a side effect of many common medications, and it’s also a side effect of radiation and chemotherapy. Since older adults are more likely to require these treatments, they are more prone to dry mouth. Dehydration can also exacerbate dry mouth. Dry mouth puts you at a higher risk for tooth and gum decay and can even cause mouth sores. Severe cases of dry mouth can even make it difficult to chew and speak.
- Oral cancer: The risk of oral cancer increases dramatically as we get older. There are a variety of existing health conditions and behavioral patterns that increase your individual risk of developing cancer.
Why Does Oral Health Change Over Time?
There are a variety of reasons why our oral health deteriorates as we age. Many seniors develop chronic health conditions which require them to take medication. Although these medications provide life-saving care, they can also cause dry mouth and other oral side effects. Medications can also limit the type of oral care available to you as they cause a variety of interactions.
The physical and mental health issues common in old age may also make it difficult to maintain a normal oral care routine. Normal daily activities like brushing and flossing become difficult to keep up with, which leads to a buildup of plaque in the mouth.
Additionally, many older adults struggle with digestive issues or a lack of appetite, which makes it difficult to eat a healthy diet. When you’re eating an unhealthy diet that is high in sugar, that sugar stays on your teeth, which also leads to plaque buildup and oral health issues. Older adults who have smoked or used tobacco throughout their lifetimes are at an even higher risk for dental issues as they age.
How To Maintain Your Oral Health With Age
Although it’s normal to experience some teeth and gum problems as you get older, there are things you can do to prevent this from happening. Here are things you can do to maintain your oral health as you age.
- Eat a healthy, balanced diet and avoid foods and drinks that are very high in sugar. In particular, avoid chewy candies that are more likely to stick to your teeth.
- Avoid smoking or using tobacco products. Don’t hesitate to talk to your doctor if you need help quitting.
- Brush your teeth at least twice per day with a toothpaste that contains fluoride, and floss at least once per day. If you’re having trouble handling these tasks on your own, see if you can enlist a family member or caregiver to help you. Electric toothbrushes and floss picks can also make it easier to complete these tasks if you’re struggling with fine motor skills.
- See your dentist at least twice a year for a professional cleaning and checkup. This helps to prevent buildup of plaque and tartar. Your dentist can also catch oral cancers and other serious oral health issues before you do.
- Seek treatment if you struggle with dry mouth. Sugarless gum can help stimulate saliva production, and there are also forms of artificial saliva on the market. If your dry mouth is caused by a specific medication, talk to your doctor to see if there are any alternatives you can take.
Sedation Dentistry For Older Adults
Physical and mental health issues can make going to the dentist very uncomfortable for some older adults. Mild to moderate sedation is a very helpful tool that can make dental treatment more bearable, especially for those who struggle with dental anxiety or have a strong gag reflex. With this type of sedation, the patient is conscious, but in a very relaxed state.
Stronger IV sedation may not be an appropriate option for all seniors, as they are more likely to be sensitive to anesthesia. Talk to your dentist to see what type of sedation options they offer and which ones would be most appropriate for your needs.
At Mill Dam Dental Care, we understand how aging affects oral health and offer comprehensive dental treatment for older adults as well as for patients of all ages. Give us a call today to schedule an appointment or learn more about our dental services.