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There is absolutely no reason to expect that old age comes with the loss of our natural teeth. Dental treatments and advances in healthcare have developed so that we now live longer than ever before — and with most or all of our original teeth.
But that doesn’t mean we can be complacent. Maintaining good health means avoiding unnecessary risk, particularly in old age where infections and disease can have more serious medical consequences.
Oral infections have been shown to be associated with diabetes, pneumonia, heart disease, stroke and many other life-threatening conditions in older patients.
As always, the best protection is twice-daily brushing and flossing, regular dental check-ups and a strict routine of oral hygiene.
Read more about maintaining good Oral Health and Hygiene.
Although we may retain most of our natural teeth, by the time we are 60, the average adult has lost three teeth. There are medical, as well as cosmetic, reasons why a replacement may be appropriate to maintain the health of the mouth, gums and jaw. The space left by a missing tooth can interfere with speaking or eating, or have an impact on the support and structure of the surrounding teeth. Your dentist will advise whether the best option is dentures, or a dental implant or bridge.
Read more about Dentures
Read more about Dental Implants
Read more about Dental Bridges
Although not as common, many older people will have some form of full or partial dentures. Just as with our natural teeth, the dentures also need to be cleaned well every day, to prevent bacteria building up in the mouth.
Don’t wait until you feel pain or discover a problem before visiting the dentist. By the time you notice, the damage could already be quite advanced.
As you age, the nerves in your teeth become smaller and less sensitive to pain. Yes, they may be more sensitive to ice cream, but the warning pain of a cavity might come too late to save the tooth.
Because there is an increased risk of unchecked infections leading to life-threatening conditions, early detection becomes even more important. Instead of just looking for tooth cavities and decay, the dentist will also inspect your mouth for early signs of cancer.
By regularly updating your dentist with a list of current medications and recent health issues, it will help correct diagnosis and improve the results of treatment.
Although everyone is at risk of periodontal disease at every age, in later life the risk of infection is increased and the consequences potentially more severe.
As we age, the nerves in our teeth and gums begin to shrink, becoming less sensitive. This means that by the time an older adult experiences tell-tale pain, the disease may be more advanced than it would be in a younger person.
Gum disease is caused by the bacteria in plaque, irritating the gums until they become red, swollen and more likely to bleed. The gums begin to pull away from the teeth, providing less support. This also creates pockets, trapping more food and plaque. This allows bacteria to penetrate further — even into the root of the tooth – while weakening the support around the tooth until it may be lost.
If the disease advances further, the gums deteriorate and the bone and ligaments supporting the teeth can weaken until more teeth are lost.
Plus, any bacterial infection can spread into other areas of the body, leading to other more serious medical conditions.
Thankfully, gum disease is easily preventable and early detection allows easily managed treatment. This is one of the main reasons for regular dental check-ups in later life.
Read more about Gum Disease.
Most of us will receive prescribed medications as we get older to treat any number of health issues. However, the downside is that some medications can have a negative impact on your oral health, even as they improve your health elsewhere. There is a causal link between many medications and tooth decay or cavities.
Some medications, including antidepressants and antihistamines, can reduce the production of saliva, creating a dry mouth sensation. More than just an uncomfortable side effect, dry mouth actually has a negative impact on your oral health.
Saliva helps break down and wash away food particles and bacteria from the teeth and gums. If the flow of saliva is reduced, more food and bacteria is left to attack the teeth and gums, creating a much increased risk of tooth decay, cavities and gum disease.
If you experience dry mouth as a side effect of medication, talk to your doctor or dentist about possible alternatives. You can also try chewing on sugar free gum to help stimulate saliva to compensate.
Read more about Dry Mouth
Kicking the habit may be hard, particularly for a lifetime smoker, but the incredible damage caused by smoking will become even more noticeable in later life. But it’s never too late to quit. Even after the age of 60, quitting smoking can improve overall health while reducing daily risks to gum disease and effective oral hygiene.
Improve your oral health with regular dental check-ups.
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