Aging does not necessarily result in “inevitable” tooth loss. With age comes wisdom. And a few health and dental issues- the latter of which can be managed with proper oral care and, of course, the belief that age is but a number.
Age and dental health
As you grow older, you will experience changes in your body and even your mouth. You may become less sensitive to cavities and other dental conditions as a result of the nerves in your teeth becoming smaller. Being less sensitive to certain dental conditions isn’t always a good thing- not when these conditions are left untreated because you were unaware that they actually existed. This is where your dentist comes in; so keeping him/her on your list of friends you occasionally visit will ensure that any dental issues you may have are diagnosed and treated.
Age and cavities
You may have thought that cavities were a thing of the past- just a word reminiscent of your sugar-craving childhood years. Unfortunately, as we age, we become prone to cavities- yet again. A common cause of cavities is generally dry mouth, which isn’t a “side-effect” of aging, but rather a side-effect of an endless list of medications used to treat high blood pressure, high cholesterol, anxiety and depression, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease (amongst many other conditions). Without saliva, food particles and bacteria are not washed off your teeth, resulting in the formation of harmful acids that can cause cavities.
Tips to relieve dry mouth:
- Use an oral moisturiser in the form of either a spray or mouthwash;
- Constantly hydrate your mouth by keeping a bottle of water on hand from which you should take frequent sips;
- Chew on sugar-free gum to increase saliva production;
- Stay away from foods and drinks that can cause irritation to a dry mouth. These include caffeinated and carbonated drinks, alcohol, and fruit juices which have a high acid content;
- Consider buying a humidifier which will help retain the moisture in the air;
- Speak to your dentist about a possibly changing your medication to one that doesn’t cause dry mouth.
Age and root decay
As we get older, our gums tend to pull back (recede) from our teeth; and as a result, the tooth root is left exposed to acids that cause decay. Unlike the crown parts of the teeth, the roots are not protected by enamel, and are more susceptible to decay.
Age and attrition
Dental attrition, also known as wear and tear, is a gradual deterioration of the protective layer of the teeth (enamel), caused by many years of chomping, chewing, gnawing and grinding. Excessive exposure to acidic foods and drinks can also weaken the enamel. Once the enamel has weakened, the tooth becomes vulnerable to cracks and breaks. A crack that reaches the centre of the tooth, called the pulp, which holds the tooth’s nerve endings, causes the pulp to become inflamed and infected, necessitating a root canal. Due to a loss of sensitivity to the tooth’s nerves (a result of the aging process), the infection may be far-progressed before you experience any pain.
Age and tooth discolouration
Below the enamel, lies a layer of the tooth called the dentin which is yellow in colour. As the enamel becomes thinner and thinner over the years, more of the yellow dentin shows through the enamel, giving your teeth a more yellow appearance. Furthermore, the stains caused by certain foods and drinks accumulate on your teeth over a period of time, dimming your natural tooth colour.
Age and gum disease
Gum disease is caused by the bacteria in plaque. If not regularly removed by brushing and flossing, the plaque will result in gum inflammation. Left untreated, gum disease can damage the oral bone, causing tooth loss. Factors like tobacco usage, ill-fitting bridges and dentures, poor diet, diabetes and cancer, which are often problems experienced by older adults, can increase the risk of developing gum disease.
Age and oral cancer
Cancer that develops inside the mouth, is known as oral cancer. Age is often a risk factor, as oral cancers take years to develop. In the earlier stages, symptoms of oral cancer can be mistaken for other issues, such as a toothache, which is why it is important to visit your dentist should symptoms persist. Regular dental check-ups will ensure that any symptoms of oral cancer do not go unnoticed.
At Extreme Dentistry, Dr Anand believes that with good oral care and regular dental visits, you don’t have to lose your teeth to the aging process. We are firm-believers in the 80/20 rule: by the age of 80 you should have at least 20 functional teeth. So, when last did you see your dentist? Give us a call and let us help you take care of your teeth!