The changes that occur with age can cause serious and complex dental problems if you don’t maintain your oral health. Issues such as receding gums and fragile teeth can increase your risk of gum disease and tooth loss. The consequences can affect your ability to speak and chew normally and potentially impact your physical well-being.
Attending twice-annual dental visits can help identify and prevent common oral problems, even if you no longer have your natural teeth. You’ll get the most from your dental visits when you work with professionals familiar with the issues that affect senior oral health.
The dentists at Rifkin Dental in Yorktown Heights and Carmel, New York, specialize in providing compassionate, professional dental care tailored to the unique needs of seniors. Our team has the experience and expertise necessary to address your dental needs, with consideration of medications and health conditions that may complicate your treatment.
Find out more about the ways your oral health needs change with age and why healthy teeth and gums are so essential for seniors.
Aging and oral health
At any age, your oral health is linked to your physical condition. As you become older, the natural changes that impact your cells, tissues, and organs also impact your teeth and gums.
With age, your gums and oral surfaces weaken as tissue becomes thinner and less elastic. Teeth become more fragile and vulnerable to damage as your bones become less dense and strong. Changes in your immune system allow infection to spread faster and take longer to heal, threatening gum health.
The effects of some chronic conditions, medications, and treatments can also take a toll on your teeth and gums, increasing the likelihood of oral health problems.
Dry mouth, or xerostomia, is one of the most common conditions that pose a threat to your oral health as you age. Saliva helps keep your mouth hydrated to clean away food particles, bacteria, and plaque. Without adequate saliva production, these substances can accumulate, increasing your risk of tooth decay, gum disease, bad breath, and infection.
While dry mouth affects about 30% of adults age 65 and older, it is not a natural result of aging. Instead, dry mouth is usually attributed to the effects of medications. Research indicates that up to 400 medications are associated with salivary gland dysfunction, representing about 80% of the most common prescription medications.
Dry mouth can also occur with chronic conditions such as diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease, or as the result of medical treatments like radiation therapy for head and neck cancers.
Working with your dentist to treat the underlying cause of dry mouth and increase saliva production can help protect your teeth and gums.
Gum disease affects about 68% of adults age 65 years or older. As gum disease progresses, it can damage the tissues of the mouth, gums, and bones that support your teeth. Gum recession, in which your gums gradually pull back from the root surface, is a serious consequence of gum disease and a leading cause of tooth loss.
Having receding gums makes it easier for bacteria to build up, resulting in inflammation and decay. Infection can also result, increasing your risk of diseases such as cardiovascular disease, pneumonia, and endocarditis if left untreated.
Daily brushing and flossing, along with twice-annual dental cleanings, can help prevent gum disease. Visiting your dentist regularly can also help identify gum disease in its early stages before it causes permanent damage.
The incidence of tooth loss increases with age. The wear-and-tear your teeth experience over a lifetime can weaken enamel and make your teeth more vulnerable to chipping, cracking, and other types of damage, increasing your risk of tooth loss.
Other age-associated factors such as a receding gum line and limited mobility to brush and floss correctly can increase your chances of tooth decay and subsequent tooth loss. Attending twice-annual dental cleaning can help keep teeth and gums healthy for as long as possible.
Maintaining your natural teeth helps preserve your jawbone and facial structure, allowing for comfortable speech, chewing, and swallowing. However, when teeth can’t be saved, your dentist can help you maintain normal function and appearance with artificial tooth replacements such as bridges or dental implants.
During a dental exam, your dentist screens for oral cancer, a group of diseases that includes cancers of the lips, mouth, palate, cheeks, throat, and floor of your mouth. While oral cancer can occur at any age, the average age of people diagnosed with oral cancer is 63.
Your dentist can recognize symptoms of oral cancer with a visual examination of your mouth. This painless procedure can identify signs of the disease in its earliest stages when oral cancer is most treatable.
Attending regular dental visits can also help identify signs of medical conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, and thyroid disease before other physical symptoms occur.
Don’t ignore the value of oral health as you age. Schedule an appointment by calling our Yorktown Heights or Carmel office for rapid, expert dental care.