You leave those cavity-prone years behind you when you enter your 20s, right? Wrong. The rate of tooth decay in people 65 or older is now higher than that of schoolchildren. Also, as you age, your gums become more susceptible, and the nerves in the central pulp of your teeth lose sensitivity.
While it may be a relief to not feel the pain, you lose your early warning system. This is a one-two punch that can lead to extensive and expensive dental procedures. Senior dental care still involves daily brushing, flossing, and rinsing, and regular exams with your dentist.
Characteristics of Aging Teeth
Some changes in aging teeth are external and preventable. Consuming citrus juices or fruit, drinking coffee and alcohol, and using tobacco can erode the enamel of teeth. Chewing sugary gum or eating sugar-filled hard candies can lead to more tooth decay, also known as dental caries or cavities.
Physiological changes can alter the appearance and color of aging teeth, regardless of what you consume. A reduction in the thickness and quality of the dentin, the layer directly below the enamel, may make teeth appear darker or more yellow.
Aging and Gum Disease
One of the most prevalent conditions amongst dentate, or tooth-having, older populations is periodontal disease. As you age, changes are happening to tissues on a molecular level. There is a reduction in bone density, particularly in women, which can affect the jaw and make tooth loss more common.
A study conducted in London found that of the 186 adults aged 60+ who participated, these dentate adults had an average of 21.4 teeth present (out of the 32 normally found in the adult mouth), 1.2 were decayed, and there were 32.6 restored surfaces. They also observed a link between income level and the condition of teeth and gums.
The Effect of Aging Teeth on Overall Health
The weakening of teeth and increase of gum disease has more effects than just needing more dental work. Poor oral hygiene can contribute to physical and emotional issues like:
- Cardiovascular disease
- Respiratory illness
- Systemic disease
- Bacterial and fungal infections
- Low self-esteem
- Reduced social interaction
- Problems with speech/communication
Suggested Care for Your Teeth as You Age
There are things that you and your dental professional can do to help curb the effects of aging on your oral health. These key steps should be used at any age.
- Stay hydrated.
- Brush your teeth twice daily.
- Remember to brush your tongue and massage the gums.
- Floss daily.
- Rinse with an antibacterial mouthwash.
- Visit your dentist at least twice a year for a cleaning and exam.
Dental Hygiene Aids for Seniors
There are a number of special tools you can use for dental care of aging teeth, or teeth of any age.
- A U-shaped brush works great for cleaning the gum line and massaging the gums.
- An electric toothbrush has a larger handle for easier gripping, and most have timers to ensure that 30 seconds is spent on each quadrant of the mouth.
- Large-handled toothbrushes are also available for easier gripping or add a large grip to a regular toothbrush.
- Toothettes work well for those who cannot tolerate normal brushes or brushing.
- Floss holders or proxabrushes can be used as alternatives to regular floss.
- If you are a caregiver providing daily oral hygiene, a foam mouth prop can provide control and safety.
Make That Appointment
South Temple Dental looks forward to being the dental professional to help you keep that smile beautiful and your mouth healthy. Contact us today to schedule your appointment.