Have you ever looked in the mirror and noticed a few more laugh lines or crow’s feet? Or a couple of gray strands that weren’t there before? Chances are you have; these are all normal signs of aging teeth. Our teeth also change as we age, and older adults face different dental concerns than younger adults. Although you can’t stop the aging process, there are some things you can do to help prevent further wear and tear on your teeth, or even reverse it.
Let’s talk about some common dental concerns in older adults, what causes them and how to combat them.
Medications, dry mouth and cavities
Here we have the perfect storm. There are over 500 medications that impact salivary gland function, causing dry mouth. Saliva is vital in helping keep your mouth clean. Without it, you become more susceptible to tooth decay and cavities. The medications that affect salivary gland function span the following drug classes: antihistamines, antidepressants, antiemetics, antihypertensives, antiparkinson, antispasmodics, antipsychotics and sedatives.
Gum disease and bone loss
The silent killer of oral health is gum disease. That’s because it can go undetected for years without routine dental checkups. The bacteria from plaque and tartar don’t just cause bad breathe. They also cause inflammation and recession of your gums, and eventually bone and tooth loss if left untreated. In severe cases, the bone loss can become so bad that even dentures cannot be worn.
Stress and grinding of the teeth
If you wake up with headaches or facial pain, you may be clenching or grinding your teeth while you sleep. This is a common although destructive practice triggered by stress. Over time, grinding will wear down the teeth, causing them to flatten, become sensitive and even chip.
Tooth sensitivity to hot or cold
Another cause of tooth sensitivity is wearing down of the enamel, the outermost protective covering on our teeth. Things like soda, candy and even citrus fruits, which are highly acidic, can all erode the enamel over time if proper oral hygiene isn’t practiced. That’s because the bacteria in our mouth feeds on the sugar, which gives it the fuel it needs to produce tooth-eating acid.
Oral Cancer in older adults
The American Cancer Society reports that the average age of oral and oropharyngeal cancer is 62. These cancers predominantly affect the tongue, tonsils, and oropharynx, gums and floor of the mouth.
Caring for aging teeth
The foods we eat, what we drink, our lifestyle choices, stress, certain medications and oral hygiene all play a part in how our teeth age. That’s a lot of factors our chompers are up against on a daily basis, which is why learning how to properly care for your teeth is vital.
- First off, practicing good oral hygiene daily is a must. Don’t skip flossing; it is key in removing debris and plaque between the teeth that your toothbrush can’t reach.
- Look into getting an electric toothbrush. It provides a more effective cleaning than a manual toothbrush.
- Dental checkups are essential for everyone. They are the only way to know for sure what is going on in your mouth. And depending on what is going on in your mouth, you may need to visit the dentist more frequently than every six months to keep things in check.
- If you have any sores or red or white patches in your mouth that last two weeks or longer, get examined by your dentist as soon as possible. These could be indicative of cancer, and early detection is essential in treating it.
- If you take any medications that cause dry mouth or are suffering from it, or if you’re experiencing tooth sensitivity, tell your dentist. Your dentist can recommend products and practical tips to help alleviate your symptoms.
- Last, but certainly not least, look into getting a night guard if you suspect that you clench or grind your teeth at night. Your dentist will usually be able to tell if you clench or grind, based on how your teeth are wearing down.
Affordable dental care
Dental work is not cheap, even with dental insurance. Plus, if you’re retired, you know that traditional Medicare largely does not cover dental.
If you need substantial dental work done or need to visit the dentist more than twice a year for checkups, look into getting a dental savings plan.
Dental saving plans are an affordable alternative to dental insurance that starts around $80 a year and operate like a club membership. Visit a participating dentist, and you’ll get discounts between 10% and 60% off most dental procedures, including:
- Oral surgery
Plus, dental savings plans don’t have an annual maximum. You’ll continue to get a discounted rate off your dental work no matter how many times you use it.
Adult dental health
Now that you know some of the common concerns of adult dental health and how to combat them, start putting these tips into practice. You’ll be surprised how far good oral hygiene goes in preserving a young, healthy smile.