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Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The Importance of Regular Dental Checkups for Seniors

Dentist treating patient with gum disease
Contrary to popular belief, losing teeth is largely a result of preventable oral disease and not a direct consequence of aging. It is possible for your teeth to last a lifetime with the right attention. The two most important aspects of this care are a good, at-home oral hygiene routine and regular visits to the dentist.

As we age, we become more susceptible to several dental health issues. Some of these include:

  1. Increased Tooth Sensitivity: Your gums naturally recede over time. This exposes the vulnerable root area of the tooth that is not protected by enamel. These areas of your teeth are particularly susceptible to pain from hot, cold, sweet, sour or pressure sensations. Talk to your dentist about using a special toothpaste for sensitive teeth and to rule out that the sensitivity is not being caused by a more serious concern, such as a cracked tooth or tooth decay.

  2. Gum Disease: Gum disease is much more common in the older population. In fact more than half of people between the ages of 65-74 suffer from periodontitis, the most severe type of gum disease and one of the leading causes of tooth loss. For more information on symptoms and risk factors of periodontal disease, check out our blog post here. The most effective way to avoid the painful and expensive effects of gum disease is to prevent it. See your dentist if you have the symptoms of gum disease and learn more about how to ward off gingivitis and periodontitis here.

  3. Dry Mouth: Dry mouth occurs in about 30% of seniors. It can be caused by the use of many prescription and over the counter medications. When a person suffers from dry mouth, they have a decreased saliva production. Saliva is the body’s natural defense to wash away food particles and bacteria, maintain the pH balance in the mouth and remineralize the enamel of your teeth. Besides being uncomfortable and causing bad breath, too little saliva can be a major contributor to gum disease and tooth decay.

  4. Oral Cancer: According to the American Cancer Society, the average age of a person diagnosed with oral cancer is 62, with almost 75% of cases appearing after age 55. See your dentist if you find red or white patches on your tongue, gums, lips or other oral tissues, or if you have mouth sores that do not heal within two weeks. Oral cancer is most likely to be detected by your dentist and, as with many cancers, early detection is crucial for successful treatment and recovery. An oral cancer screening is a routine part of many dental checkups and another reason to maintain regular visits with your dentist.

  5. Dental Caries: Tooth decay, or dental caries, is more common as a person ages, in particular “root cavities.” These occur when gums recede to expose the more porous, susceptible portion of the tooth that is not covered by the protective enamel layer.

  6. Darkened Teeth: The appearance of darker teeth in seniors can be caused by a number of factors. Common reasons why teeth appear less white and bright include:

    • The fact that the enamel has worn very thin, allowing the yellower, darker colored dentin to show through, and

    • Staining, caused by a lifetime of eating and drinking stain-causing foods and beverages.

  1. Additional Factors: Limited dexterity due to arthritis or other medical conditions can reduce the ability to effectively maintain your oral hygiene routine at home. Talk to your dentist about tools or strategies you can implement to overcome these obstacles. A lack of transportation to and from a dental office, or financial stresses can also contribute to diminished accessibility and increased dental health problems in seniors.

Each of these issues can be addressed by your dentist and most can be avoided by brushing with a fluoridated toothpaste twice a day, flossing regularly and maintaining routine cleanings and exams at the dental office. If you are worried you cannot afford the dental care you need, take the time to talk with your dentist! Many practices offer special rates for seniors or can help connect you with programs that offer financial aid for seniors’ dental care.

The connection between dental health and overall health is becoming more and more apparent- reinforcing the importance of good dental habits and consistent dental checkups for seniors.  Maintain a great oral hygiene routine at home and see your dentist regularly to keep your mouth healthy and your smile bright- at every age!