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What You Should Know About Dental Health and Aging

What You Should Know About Dental Health and Aging

Adult Dentistry of Ballantyne believes in proactive dental care. It’s why we always encourage our patients to get regular checkups for early detection of any issues. If you wait until you can tell there’s a problem to set an appointment, there’s a greater chance that significant damage has already been done to your teeth and gums. And while regular dental checkups are important at every stage of one’s life, they are especially vital for older individuals, who have specific risks for oral problems. The following article explains why it is critical to visit the dentist at least twice a year as you grow older:

Key Points

  • The demographic of older adults (i.e., 65 years of age and older) is growing and likely will be an increasingly large part of dental practice in the coming years.
  • Although better than in years past, the typical aging patient’s baseline health state can be complicated by comorbid conditions (e.g., hypertension, diabetes mellitus) and physiologic changes associated with aging.
  • Older adults may regularly use several prescription and/or over-the-counter medications, making them vulnerable to medication errors, drug interactions or adverse drug reactions.
  • Potential physical, sensory, and cognitive impairments associated with aging may make oral health self-care and patient education/communications challenging.
  • Dental conditions associated with aging include dry mouth (xerostomia), root and coronal caries, and periodontitis; patients may show increased sensitivity to drugs used in dentistry, including local anesthetics and analgesics. Continue reading at American Dental Association

Medication Side Effects

Older individuals take medications for a variety of health concerns. Many of these remedies can negatively effect your smile. For instance, a common side effect of many medications is dry mouth. You may not even realize how important saliva production is for your oral health. An overly dry mouth can allow your teeth to become a plaque breeding ground since saliva flushes away bacteria. Read more about medications and oral health here:

The Link Between Medications and Cavities

You may wonder why you’re suddenly getting cavities when you haven’t had them in years. As we get older, we enter a second round of cavity prone years. One common cause of cavities in older adults is dry mouth. Dry mouth is not a normal part of aging. However, it is a side-effect in more than 500 medications, including those for allergies or asthma, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, pain, anxiety or depression, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases.This is just one reason why it’s so important to tell your dentist about any medications that you’re taking. Your dentist can make recommendations to help relieve your dry mouth symptoms and prevent cavities. Here are some common recommendations:

  • Use over-the-counter oral moisturizers, such as a spray or mouthwash.
  • Consult with your physician on whether to change the medication or dosage.
  • Drink more water. Carry a water bottle with you, and don’t wait until you’re thirsty to drink. Your mouth needs constant lubrication.
  • Use sugar-free gum or lozenges to stimulate saliva production.
  • Get a humidifier to help keep moisture in the air.
  • Avoid foods and beverages that irritate dry mouths, like coffee, alcohol, carbonated soft drinks, and acidic fruit juices.
  • Your dentist may apply a fluoride gel or varnish to protect your teeth from cavities.

Understanding the Problem

Dental problems are among the most common health problems experienced by older adults. In fact, people over 65 with natural teeth have more tooth decay than any other age group and thus continue to need a yearly visit to the dentist.

Older people produce less saliva which is needed to clean the teeth. Gums shrink with age, exposing the tooth to decay or infection. Furthermore, older persons may have difficulty flossing and brushing because of poor vision or problems moving their arms, wrists, and hands.

Dental problems can lead to poor nutrition. Unfortunately, these problems are often not attended to by older persons, particularly men.

Seniors health advocacy group Health in Aging has compiled a list of the five most common dental issues for older adults. Here is an excerpt from the full list.

Gum Disease
Plaque grows on the surface of the teeth. The bacteria found in plaque give off acids that cause gum disease. To prevent gum disease and decay, make sure the person you are caring for removes plaque daily by brushing and flossing the teeth. An electric toothbrush may be easier for the person to use, but ask the dentist or dental hygienist to demonstrate how to use it.

Poor Fitting Dentures
Dentures need to be checked and refitted on a regular basis because they can become loose or uncomfortable. Poor fitting dentures may drop when a person speaks, and they can cause chewing problems that can lead to poor nutrition. Additional info at Health in Aging