Our teeth undergo a variety of age-related changes as we get older. These changes affect much more than tooth loss – natural fluctuations in bone strength, nerve sensitivity, muscle loss, and lifestyle changes can impact oral health. As a result, many dental patients aged 60 and older find that they need to take special care to ensure their mouth stays healthy. Before diving into tips for a healthy mouth, let’s look at the most common oral health complications for seniors.
How Do Teeth and Gums Change over Time?
Time takes its toll on all parts of the body, and the mouth is no exception. Seniors can expect the following changes to their teeth:
Wear and tear
Your teeth undergo a fair amount of pressure, friction, and stress throughout your lifetime. Years of chewing, biting, and grinding will slowly wear down the protective coating of enamel on your teeth. As enamel weakens, your teeth are more susceptible to damage, breakage, and decay.
Weakened enamel will also play a part in tooth discoloration, as enamel gives teeth their white shade. Because enamel wears away over time, aging teeth may begin to lose their white sheen and appear yellow. That yellow is due to the dentin layer, a layer of living tissue below the enamel. Discoloration can also result from years of tobacco use, as nicotine residue leaves a yellowish tint.
As we age, our bones and muscles age right along with us. When facial bones and muscles lose their density and strength, gums will often start to recede. In severe gum recession cases, the tooth root may become less secure and lead to tooth loss. Gum recession can also come from gum disease, which often goes undiagnosed in seniors due to decreased nerve sensitivity.
Older adults are at an increased risk of dry mouth. In many cases, this is due to certain medications that decrease saliva production. This is problematic for dental patients at any age, as saliva delivers enamel-building minerals and washes away harmful bacteria. Medications for blood pressure, heart disease, and even chemotherapy can put seniors at higher risk for dry mouth, cavities, decay, and tartar buildup.
Tips for Healthy Teeth & Gums at any Age
Even the healthiest of daily routines won’t stop the aging process altogether – but it can certainly slow it down and minimize the need for significant dental work. Here are some great ways that seniors can ensure that their teeth and gums are as healthy as possible:
- Use the right toothpaste. Make sure you are using toothpaste with fluoride, as fluoride provides added protection against decay. Not only does it neutralize harmful bacteria that lead to cavities, but it also supports enamel strength by rebuilding essential minerals. You can also choose a mouth rinse that contains fluoride for added protection.
- Drink more water. Drinking water is an easy way to boost oral health. Water will keep your mouth hydrated and moist, promoting saliva production and protecting against dry mouth. Water also helps wash away harmful bacteria and food particles, minimizing bad breath, cavities, and plaque.
- Switch to an electric toothbrush. Studies show that electric toothbrushes can be more effective at cleaning teeth when compared to manual brushing. Even better, because seniors often experience a loss of mobility or flexibility, an electric toothbrush can help ease any pain or discomfort while brushing.
- Keep up with regular dentist appointments. This is by far the most critical piece of good oral health. Regular dental checkups ensure that oral health concerns are treated early on (long before they become big problems). Seniors should be seeing their dentist at least two times each year.
Are you due for your next dental checkup? If so, give TruBlu Dentistry a call! We’ll help you create the best at-home dental routine to ensure your smile stays healthy and vibrant throughout your senior years.