How Your Oral and Dental Health Changes as You Age
senior oral health

The importance of taking care of our teeth and dental health is typically stressed the most when we’re young. We were taught good habits early with reminders to brush and floss, avoiding sugary treats, and maybe we even wore braces.  However, as we age the importance of good oral health is often ignored, though it’s still just as important.

Good Oral Care is about more than Maintaining a Great Smile

As we age, our dental and oral health changes and most people don’t realize that it can impact a lot more than just our teeth and gums. It’s equally important to keep your mouth and body in tip top shape to ensure your overall health and wellness.

Getting Older Doesn’t Mean Losing Your Teeth

Many people think that tooth loss is just a natural part of aging. In fact, people lose their teeth due to disease and lack of good oral hygiene, not the aging process. While we typically think of cavities as something mostly concerning children, as we age, the risk of cavities increases. One reason is dry mouth, a common side effect of many medications. Dry mouth increases the chance for decay, leading to cavities. Dry mouth can also lead to fungal infections in the mouth and difficulty swallowing as there isn’t enough saliva in the mouth to soften your food. If your doctor prescribes a new medication, ask if dry mouth is a possible side effect so you can stop any problems before they happen. 

Not only are we susceptible to cavities, inflammation and infection as we age, the structure of our teeth and mouths change as well, impacting our health and the cosmetic appearance of our faces. We all know that as we age, gravity is not our friend, causing our skin to droop, our upper lip to become longer and the shape of our upper and lower jaw to become more narrow or crowded. When this happens, we don’t have as much facial support.

These changes can start happening as early as our 30’s and 40’s and in time can lead to pain, difficulty cleaning our teeth and a big change in the aesthetics of our smile.

Not to mention the stains, pits, cracks and discoloration from all that coffee, tea and soda all those years. Time shows that your smile changes more and more over time. 

Gum Recession is a Common Problem with Age

Gum recession is another issue many people deal with as they age. Not cleaning your teeth properly leads to tarter build-up under the gums. This leads to inflammation and gum disease. Both of these cause the gums to pull away from the teeth, exposing more of the root, leading to decay and cavities as well as sensitivity.  This also can give the appearance of the teeth looking longer…like the old saying ‘long in the tooth.’ Lack of good oral hygiene is a big cause of this. By simply brushing our teeth with a soft bristle toothbrush twice a day and flossing you can really make a big difference and avoid recession.

What Can I Do to Keep My Facial Aging at Bay?

If you’re really concerned about aging and are doing everything right from a hygiene perspective and still want to keep that youthful look, visit an orthodontist. Braces can help move the jaw, widening it again and giving back that more youthful shape. Keep in mind though, that braces may also lead to gum recession. So, think long and hard about going down that road and speak with your orthodontist about your concerns.

Link between Oral Health and Overall Health

We find more and more links between our oral health and overall health. Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, heart disease, and lung cancer are only a few of the chronic diseases that have strong connections to gum disease. If you’re diabetic, you’ll have more difficulty keeping your gum disease in check and the same in reverse; having gum disease will make it harder to keep your diabetes under control.

There have been links showing the same bacteria found in gum disease can also be found in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease. Since your mouth is the gateway to your body, any bacteria in your gums can travel throughout your bloodstream to other organs, including your heart. So good oral hygiene is critical.

Brush your teeth twice daily. It’s especially important in the evening before bed. When we sleep, our mouths have less saliva allowing that tarter to build up, starting the road to decay, cavities and recession. Cleaning between teeth is also incredibly important. There are so many options available these days that are simpler and more convenient than floss. Try a water flosser, floss picks, interdental brushes, dental picks and other options that are easier to use than dental floss and make it easier to get to those hard to reach areas. These are a great choice if you have painful dexterity issues like arthritis. You can easily find these interproximal cleaners at your local pharmacy or big box store. 

Dentures Don’t Necessarily End Gum Issues

Even if you’re a denture wearer, you still need to take care of your oral health. Take out your dentures for at least four hours a day and clean them daily with a product specifically for dentures. This will help keep the lining of your mouth healthy.

 Dental Care is as Important with Aging

Dental care becomes more important as we grow older. When we’re younger, twice a year cleanings are fine, but as we age, more frequent check-ups and cleanings become more important. An important fact that most people don’t know is that aging causes the nerves inside your teeth become smaller and less sensitive. This means that by the time you actually start to feel pain or discomfort, the damage has already been done and the chance of losing the tooth increases. By getting regular or more frequent checkups, you are more likely to catch issues sooner. Dentists will be able to recognize the signs of oral cancer and gum disease in their earlier stages. This can save you a lot of time, money, aggravation and pain.

Smoking and Drinking Are Bad News for Your Mouth

Don’t forget that smoking and chewing tobacco and drinking alcohol are not just bad for your overall health, but also bad for your oral health.

Smoking and chewing tobacco will give you bad breath, stain your teeth and raise your chances for getting mouth or throat cancer. Studies show that smoking or chewing tobacco increase your risk for cancer.  The American Cancer Society has shown that about seven out of ten or 70% of the people with oral cancer are heavy drinkers.

Smoke and drink? Your risk of getting oral cancer is 15%higher.

It’s very common for older people to frequently visit their primary care physician, and other medical doctors. What is unfortunately not as common as we age, is placing as much importance in our oral health as our overall health. The ironic thing is that they’re all connected. Taking care your mouth is just as important as taking care of your body. You’ll look and feel better.

Don’t forget that when you have a healthy mouth, you’ll have a healthier body even as you age.

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