There’s a common misconception that, as we age, tooth loss is inevitable. Thankfully, this is not the case. Although tooth loss is extremely common in elderly adults, it is largely preventable. Of course, our teeth do change in some important ways as we get older. Being aware of these changes and taking preventative measures to protect our teeth is key to avoiding tooth loss with age. Let’s consider some of the ways our teeth change with age and what we can do to help ensure that our smile stays healthy throughout our lives.
Teeth and Age: What Changes Take Place?
- Wearing down. Over time, the teeth endure a lot of wear and tear. Imagine the effects from a lifetime of bruxism, for example. Even daily chewing—which obviously can’t be avoided—eventually starts wearing the teeth down.
- Discoloration. Tooth discoloration is a normal part of the aging process. That’s because, over time, the tooth’s enamel wears away, exposing the naturally yellow dentin.
- Maintenance drugs. Countless elderly adults are on long-term maintenance medication, particularly for high blood pressure and heart disease. These medications—and others, like chemotherapy—can wreak havoc on oral health. Dry mouth is an extremely common side effect of these types of medications. Since saliva is instrumental in helping to prevent tooth decay, dry mouth can have detrimental effects on oral health.
- Gum recession. Bone and muscle loss is inevitable with age. When bone and muscle loss occurs in the face and jaw areas, gum recession is often a result. Severe gum recession can cause teeth to loosen and ultimately fall out.
- Smaller nerves in teeth. As we age, the nerves in our teeth often get smaller. Why is this problematic? With smaller nerves, teeth are less sensitive. That means that elderly adults are less likely to feel problems such as tooth decay, thus giving cavities a chance to progress.
- Increased risk of tooth loss and gum disease. There are certain risk factors that contribute to poor oral health, including smoking and excessive alcohol use. Elderly people who smoke and drink alcohol, then, are at an increased risk of poor oral health—including tooth loss and gum disease—due to years of these high-risk behaviors.
Minimizing the Impact
Some changes that take place with age are inevitable—tooth discoloration, for example. Others can be prevented entirely, or the impact of aging on the teeth can at least be minimized. Consider the following tips:
- Visit your dentist regularly. The importance of regular dental check-ups and professional cleanings should go without saying. However, visiting your dentist twice a year becomes even more important with age. Because elderly adults are less likely to feel problems developing, it’s crucial to have regular check-ups so that any concerns can be caught and treated early.
- Stop smoking. Besides being detrimental to your physical health, smoking cigarettes is terrible for your oral health too. The longer you smoke, the greater the chances of adverse effects on your smile. So, make the decision to stop smoking today.
- Consider an electric toothbrush. With age, a decrease in manual dexterity is common. Thus, elderly adults often aren’t able to brush their teeth as effectively as younger adults. A good way to combat that problem is by investing in an electric toothbrush.
- Drink plenty of water. Water is an important part of maintaining good oral health for everyone. However, it’s even more important for older adults, and particularly those on long-term maintenance medications. Drinking plenty of water can help decrease the effects of dry mouth. When given the choice, opt for tap water over bottled water, as tap water is likely to be fluoridated.
Have questions? Contact TruBlu Dentistry today to learn more.