From creaky knees to chronic back pain, there are plenty of reasons to celebrate getting older. As you’re tallying up your new list of aches, pains, and medical considerations, make sure you don’t overlook your dental health. Aging can influence our oral health in a number of ways, and it’s important to be aware of these factors so you can take good care of your teeth well into your Golden Years. Here are six things everyone should know about oral care as they age.
A quick notice! We hope you enjoy this blog, but please remember, it should NOT take the place of advice and consultation from a qualified dental professional (like the team at Rifkin Dental!). Please don't use content on the internet to self-diagnose — see your dental professional for regular check-ups and if you suspect you might have a chronic or acute dental issue.
Research suggests oral health issues such as tooth decay and oral diseases are especially common among people who are over the age of 65. A number of factors may contribute to dwindling oral health as we age, including the loss of dental insurance coverage, lack of access to proper dental care, and so on.
No matter the cause, there’s evidence older adults may be more likely to experience oral health conditions such as dry mouth, gum disease, tooth decay, discolored teeth, bad breath, tooth loss, oral diseases such as thrush or oral cancer, and plain old wear and tear.
One of the most common causes of tooth sensitivity in older teeth is the gum disease noted above. Gum disease can cause the gums to detach from teeth (aka “recede”). This, in turn, exposes more sensitive areas of the teeth. This helps explain why older adults may experience more sensitivity to hot, cold, sweet, and/or sour foods and drinks.
Tooth sensitivity may also result when tooth enamel wears down due to aggressive brushing, teeth grinding, poor oral health care, and so on. When the enamel is gone, it exposes the more sensitive inner layers of the teeth.
As we age, we’re more likely to require the aid of medications in order to sustain healthy bodily function. The downside is some of these medications can contribute to oral health issues such as dry mouth. Because dry mouth can have serious consequences for oral health, it’s important to talk to your dentist if you notice any change in your teeth, gums, or oral cavity after starting a new medication.
There’s some evidence oral health issues may lead to health issues elsewhere in the body. For example, poor oral hygiene is related to an increased risk of heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, respiratory problems, stroke, and oral cancer. Oral health issues such as tooth sensitivity may also make it harder to consume a healthy diet, which can lead to a host of general health issues.
It’s a cruel irony that at a time when oral hygiene remains critically important, some adults find it becomes harder to maintain. For example, joint and mobility issues may make it harder to grip a toothbrush or floss, which can interfere with a person’s ability to sustain a proper oral hygiene routine.
If this is the case for you, it’s important to talk to your dentist about your options. Certain toothbrushes and flossing tools may be easier to use as you age, so don’t give up until you’ve found oral care products that work for you.
As you’ve no doubt surmised, it’s essential to maintain proper oral health care routines as we age. To that end:
Brush at least twice a day with a soft-bristled toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste.
Floss at least once a day.
Avoid cigarettes and other tobacco products.
Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water and avoiding alcohol whenever possible.
Consume a healthy diet that’s high in vegetables and low in sugar.
If you wear dentures, make sure to clean them every day.
See your dentist on a regular basis for professional cleanings and evaluations.
Aging doesn’t spell doom for your teeth—provided you invest in taking good care of them. By staying alert to the specific oral care issues that may crop up as you age, you can continue to prioritize sound oral hygiene practices that will help protect your teeth past retirement.