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Dental Health for Seniors

Maintaining your bright, healthy smile as you age is just as important as sustaining your physical and mental health.  Healthy teeth and gums not only keep your smile beautiful, but they also make you look younger and more vibrant, boost your confidence and self-esteem, and can even support and improve your overall health.

Oral health is even more important once you’ve reached your senior years because as you age, there is an increased risk for a number of oral health problems, including tooth decay, gum disease, dry mouth, root decay, and oral cancer.  All of these issues can negatively affect your overall well-being and take away your bright and healthy smile.

Oral Health Problems in Seniors

Tooth decay is a common problem among seniors.  It can be caused by a number of factors, including dry mouth, medications, and a diet, including too many sugary foods and drinks. Tooth decay is a process in which the acids produced by bacteria in the mouth erode your tooth enamel.

This can lead to cavities, which if not treated, can grow larger, deeper, and lead to infections, toothache, and tooth loss. Tooth decay or cavities have also been linked to a number of other senior health problems, including:

  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Pneumonia
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity

Gum disease is another common oral health issue among seniors. It is a chronic inflammatory disease that affects the tissues surrounding the teeth. It is caused by bacteria that builds up on the teeth and gums over time and, if not treated, can lead to tooth loss and other serious health complications. In fact, gum disease has been determined to be a contributing factor in a number of overall health problems, including:

  • Diabetes
  • Alzheimer's disease
  • Respiratory infections
  • Heart disease
  • Stroke

Dry mouth can occur for a number of reasons.  It can be an uncomfortable side-effect from some prescribed medications, chronic illness conditions, and even from the aging process itself. When the mouth is dry, there is less saliva to wash away plaque and bacteria, increasing the risk of decay and gum disease.

Root decay is another type of decay that affects the exposed roots of teeth. It is more common among seniors because your teeth have been exposed to many more years of daily wear and tear. In addition, gums may have receded, exposing the roots of your teeth.  

Oral cancer can be more common among seniors than among younger adults and is more frequently diagnosed in men than in women.  It is a type of cancer that can develop in the mouth, throat, tongue, or lips.  Risk factors include:

  • Tobacco use
  • Overexposure to the sun
  • Excessive alcohol consumption
  • Poor oral hygiene
  • Human papillomavirus (HPV) infection
  • A family history of oral cancer

Tooth decay, gum disease, root decay are all caused by a combination of factors:

  • Plaque buildup. Plaque is a sticky coating of bacteria that forms on the teeth. When plaque is not removed through professional dental cleaning, it can harden into tartar, which can then irritate your gums and cause them to recede. This exposes the roots of the teeth to bacteria, which can lead to root decay.
  • Acidic foods and drinks.  Acidic foods and drinks, such as soda, citrus fruits, and sports drinks, can erode the enamel on the surface of your teeth. This can make your teeth more susceptible to decay.
  • Toothbrush abrasion.  Brushing your teeth too hard or using a hard-bristled toothbrush can, over time, damage or destroy the enamel of your teeth. This can make your teeth and roots more susceptible to decay.
  • Certain medical conditions. Some medical conditions, such as diabetes and osteoporosis, can make people more susceptible to decay.  Changes in your immune system, a combination of multiple health issues, continued smoking, these are all things that contribute to tooth decay, as well as other serious dental problems.
  • Tooth loss. Tooth loss is also a frequent problem among seniors, and it can be caused by a number of factors, including tooth decay, gum disease, a fall or injuries. Tooth loss can make it difficult to eat and speak, and it can also lead to other health problems, such as malnutrition and depression.

Tips for Seniors to Maintain Good Oral Health

It is important to take care of your oral health to prevent these or other health problems as you age. Seniors are at increased risk for oral health issues and are more likely to develop tooth decay, gum disease, root decay, dry mouth, and/or oral cancer.

A healthy mouth can improve your quality of life. It allows you to eat, speak, and smile comfortably. It can also boost your confidence and self-esteem.

  • Brush your teeth twice a day for at least two minutes each time. Use a soft-bristled toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste.  Use a mouthwash to help freshen your breath and kill bacteria.
  • Floss once a day. This helps to remove plaque and bacteria from between your teeth where your toothbrush cannot always reach.
  • Avoid sugary foods and drinks. Eat a healthy diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
  • See your dentist for regular checkups and cleanings. Your dentist can identify and treat dental problems early before they become more serious issues.

In addition to the oral health tips above, here are some other things you can do to help maintain a youthful smile as you age:

  • Whiten your teeth. Teeth can become stained and yellow over time. Whitening your teeth can help to restore their brightness.
  • Get cosmetic dentistry procedures. If you have chipped, cracked, or crooked teeth, you may want to consider getting a cosmetic dentistry procedure to improve your appearance.  It is never too late to improve your smile.
  • Protect your teeth from wear and tear. Avoid chewing on hard objects, such as ice or hard candy.
  • Be mindful of gum health. Gum disease is a common problem among seniors, and it can lead to tooth loss, infections, and pain.  Be sure to brush your gums gently and floss regularly to keep your gums healthy.
  • Stay hydrated. Dry mouth can make it difficult to chew and swallow food, and it can also increase the risk of tooth decay and gum disease. Drink plenty of water throughout the day to stay hydrated.
  • Avoid smoking and excessive alcohol use. Smoking and excessive alcohol use can damage your teeth and gums. If you smoke or drink excessively, talk to your doctor about ways to quit.

Good oral healthcare is important at every age, from adolescents to seniors, and every age in between.  At Kingston Dental Care, we want to make sure your teeth stay healthy, function properly, and look great no matter how young or how old you may be.  

This means that protecting the health and safety of our patients and their families is our number one priority.  Our highly professional and efficient dentists, dental assistants, and hygienic staff provide quality, comprehensive dental care so that we can serve the dental needs of all our community.   We never lose sight of our #1 goal: Patients always come first.

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