Keeping Up with Oral Health as You Age

oral health as you age

May is National Older Americans Month. Despite the belief that many seniors lose their natural teeth as they age, about 75 percent of people 65 and older have retained all or some of their natural teeth.

With that being said, there’s no doubt that older adults face oral health problems. Sure, one might think that he or she need not be concerned about cavities anymore. But, just like with younger people, tooth decay can cause pain and discomfort as well as wear down the gums. In fact, cavities can occur more frequently in older adults for several reasons. Firstly, seniors may not have been exposed to a fluoridated water system as children or used toothpaste that contains fluoride in the past.

As gum tissue begins to recede in older adults, cavities become more prevalent, since plaque has more space to harbor between the teeth and gums. Also, dry mouth, a result of the natural aging process and certain medications, can lead to more tooth decay. Perhaps most relevantly, older adults are also more likely to have decay around older fillings.

“I wish all fillings and dental work would last forever, but dental work requires maintenance,” Dr. Bruce Terry, a member of the Pennsylvania Dental Association, told the Digital Journal. “Everyone should be seen by their dentist regularly to see if there are any broken teeth or fillings. The health of the gum tissues can also be an early sign of several systemic diseases like diabetes.”

Lifelong dedication to oral health is becoming increasingly important as hundreds of thousands of baby boomers reach retirement age, shifting the average age of the U.S. population toward the older end of the spectrum. Currently, only 13 percent of Americans are aged 65 and older, but by 2030, almost 20 percent of the nation will be at least that age, according to Pew Research Center’s population projections.

To ensure proper oral hygiene and get rid of dry mouth, tooth decay and gingivitis, try these tips:

  • Brush your natural teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste.
  • Clean between teeth at least once a day.
  • Clean and soak your dentures daily to keep your mouth free of bad bacteria. Don’t forget to clean them after meals as well.
  • With a warm, damp cloth or soft toothbrush, massage your gums gently.
  • Visit your dentist every six months for a checkup and professional cleaning.
  • If you experience dry mouth (xerostomia), be sure to talk to your dentist. There are many treatments to alleviate symptoms, including chewing sugarless gum, increasing fluid intake, sucking on sugar-free candy or even using artificial saliva.

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