While dental health is universal and affects all ages, the type of dental care you need will change as you age. Dental care for children differs vastly from treatments that teenagers commonly need, and the same is true as you reach later adulthood. It’s important to consider the changes that can occur as you age in order to stay up to date with your oral health.
Below are some of the risks that seniors in particular can suffer. Whether it relates to the gums, the teeth, or the mouth in general, each of these ailments poses a unique set of problems. Regularly attend check-ups for your teeth so that a dentist can diagnose and rectify these problems for you!
1. Gum Disease
A major concern as we age resides in the health of our gums. While we spend childhood and young adulthood worried about the cleanliness of our teeth, our gums can easily be neglected.
Gum disease is ultimately the result of bacteria, which comes from plaque and tartar on the teeth. These bacteria lead to painful and unhealthy results like inflammation of the gums. Inflammation and pain can make it difficult to chew and swallow, and it can even cause uncomfortable side effects such as bleeding gums.
When gums sustain bacteria build-up, it can lead to gingivitis (common gum disease). This can be reversed with proper dental care. If not treated, gingivitis can then result in periodontitis, which not only affects the gum tissue but the jaw bone as well. There are steps that can be taken at each stage of the gum disease progression to reverse or slow the effects and allow you to regain full oral health.
If you notice a build-up of plaque or tartar, it might be time to return to the dentist for a regular tooth cleaning. If you are prone to build-up, the best way to avoid gum disease is to brush at least twice a day, use mouthwash, floss daily and visit the dentist quarterly rather than every six months.
If you notice red or irritated gums, or have been spitting blood during brushing, it is definitely time to visit a periodontist. Don’t put it off – this is best dealt with at the first signs.
2. Receding Gums
If gum disease continues to affect a patient, its progression can lead to gum recession. Both gum disease and recession are much more likely for those who smoke. There are also other behaviours that can speed up or cause recession, including grinding teeth and poor dental hygiene. As older people will have been smoking for longer and might have sustained other dental or gum issues over their lifetime, they are most at risk of this issue.
Gum recession is where the pink tissue gradually moves back to expose more of the tooth. It occurs gradually over time, so it might be difficult to notice at first. It’s important to visit the dentist as soon as possible if you think this is happening, as it can lead to tooth loss.
If you are regularly attending tooth cleanings, your dentist should be able to recognise the symptoms of receding gums. However, you may notice it yourself if you experience sensitivity, exposed teeth, and discomfort.
The best way to prevent or slow this type of ailment is to quit smoking or employ a mouthguard if you grind your teeth. Improving your diet to include less high-sugar foods and improving your oral health are also great ways to take better care of your gums.
3. Oral Cancer
The best way to protect yourself against oral cancer is to know what to look for, so you can seek treatment as soon as possible.
Age plays a major factor in diagnosis with oral cancer. As with gum disease, smoking and drinking alcohol put you at higher risk.
If you notice sores, colour changes in your mouth, or any irregularities, it is important to get examined by your dentist to check for signs of oral cancer. It is also a good idea to regularly conduct self-examinations of your mouth to ensure that you catch any abnormalities quickly.
4. Tooth Decay
Tooth decay is one of the most universally concerning dental problems. No matter how old you are, cavities are always a risk. Children, adults, and older adults all struggle with the pain that can come with a cavity.
Luckily, there’s lots you can do to prevent cavities. The major risk factors for them, and eventually tooth decay if left untreated, are poor dental hygiene and a sugary diet. The hard thing is that as we age, tooth care can become more and more difficult. Mobility impairments can make daily tasks like this harder to complete effectively, which is why it is essential to visit your dentist regularly who can aid you with cleaning and give advice for brushing at home.
Many people find relief in the use of an electric toothbrush, which are very useful for those finding brushing more difficult. They don’t require vigorous arm movements and are proven to reach a wider area of the mouth than manual toothbrushes. This helps to reduce plaque build-up, so bacteria can’t begin to cause damage to your teeth.
The Bottom Line
Dental health is an incredibly important thing to consider, especially as we age. Regularly checking in with a dental practice that knows the unique issues older adults face is crucial.
Make appointments with a senior dental service regularly so you can stay up to date with your oral health and prevent the development of long-term issues. The key to preventing and reversing harmful conditions are early diagnosis and regular treatment.
If you are at risk for oral cancer, gum disease, or any other condition, be vigilant for signs of illness. It could be the difference between a quick dentist visit and oral surgery.