Common dental problems in later life
If you look after your teeth, there is no reason you can’t enjoy good oral health well into old age.
However, as you grow in years, there are a series of natural changes that occur in the mouth and throughout the body which can increase your risk of dental problems.
Knowing the common conditions associated with ageing enables you to take steps to prevent and treat them early before they progress into something more serious.
Gum recession, which is common in later life, is the process by which the border where the gum tissue meets the teeth is worn away or pulls back, exposing the root surfaces of the tooth below its protective enamel cover. This exposed layer is not as resistant to cavities without the protection of its enamel cover.
Effective brushing and flossing, ensuring all the exposed surfaces of the teeth are cleaned, can prevent this. Regular trips to the dental hygienist for a professional clean below the gum line and the exposed root surfaces can also reduce the risk of tooth decay.
Gum disease occurs when a build-up of plaque on the teeth and gums results in an infection of the gum surrounding the teeth. If left unchecked, it can become very serious.
Gum disease can be avoided with good oral care throughout life and regular visits to the dentist to check you aren't developing any of these symptoms.
As tooth enamel thins, which can happen gradually throughout your life, teeth may become more sensitive. You need to be careful not to overbrush, or brush too hard when cleaning your teeth, as this wears away at the enamel and may lead to increased sensitivity.
Brushing with a softer bristled toothbrush, or ideally an electric toothbrush and using a desensitising toothpaste can reduce sensitivity over time. Recent studies also suggest that rotating electric toothbrushes reduce plaque and gingivitis more than manual toothbrushes*.
In some cases, teeth may become less sensitive over time. This means that cavities can develop without you being aware of the symptoms. To combat the risk of cavities developing, it’s important to have regular check-ups with your dentist.
This is one of the lesser known side effects of getting older and is caused by a lack of saliva in the mouth. It is often caused as a side effect of medication or different combinations of medications, which is why it becomes more common as you age.
Since saliva is necessary to wash out the food waste, plaque and acid from the mouth after eating, a lack of saliva heightens the risk of tooth decay. You can combat dry mouth by drinking plenty of water and chewing sugar-free gum. You can even find artificial saliva products- so talk to your dentist about these and any other measures you could be taking.
How to prevent dental problems in old age?
The key to maintaining good oral health into old age is simply sticking to the basics of good dental care. Here are our top tips for keeping a healthy mouth as you age:
- Visit the dentist regularly, even if you wear dentures, to get your teeth and gums checked and professionally cleaned where appropriate
- Brush your teeth at least twice a day, for at least two minutes, using fluoride toothpaste
- Floss or use interdental brushes every day to protect the nooks and crannies between your teeth and your gums
- If your dentist recommends it, use an antibacterial mouthwash alongside brushing and flossing to reduce any plaque build-ups
- Minimise your sugar intake and steer clear of snacks packed with high sugar or starch content between meals
- Don’t smoke or use tobacco - in the short term it leads to stained teeth, bad breath and a weakened sense of taste. In the longer term, it increases your risk of gum disease and mouth cancer
- If your medication causes dry mouth, speak to your doctor about alternatives
As simple as it sounds, brushing your teeth well, eating a healthy diet and regular visits to the dentist are key to maintaining optimal oral health throughout your life. If you need a new dentist, find your local Bupa Dental Care practice here.
* Yaacob M, Worthington HV, Deacon SA, Deery C, Walmsley AD, Robinson PG, Glenny AM. Powered versus manual toothbrushing for oral health. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2014, Issue 6. Art. No.: CD002281.