We all have more health issues as we get older and our bodies age. These issues carry over into our mouths, as well. We many not see problems in our mouth as a big deal. But oral health is very important to overall health.
There are a number of oral conditions that are common in seniors. They include:
Gum disease – This is also called periodontal disease. It is a bacterial infection in your mouth. The bacteria live in plaque that builds up when you don’t brush and floss regularly. In its mild form, gingivitis, the gums get red and swollen. They also bleed more easily. Periodontitis is a more advanced form of gum disease. It causes the gums to pull away from the teeth. This forms pockets that can get infected. Left untreated, this severe form of the disease can destroy the bones, gums, and tissue that support the teeth. This can lead to tooth loss.
Dry mouth – This happens when your mouth doesn’t produce enough saliva. It can be caused by many medicines that seniors take, both prescription and over-the-counter. It can cause tooth decay, cavities, and gum disease.
Cavities and decay – Cavities are small holes in the teeth. Dentists often refer to them as decay. They can be caused by too much plaque, too much sugar in the diet, and not enough cleaning of the teeth. They can often be caused by dry mouth in older adults.
Sensitivity – As you age, your gums naturally recede (draw down and away from your teeth). This exposes areas of your teeth that aren’t protected by enamel. These areas can be more sensitive to cold, heat, or sugar.
Mouth cancer – The average age of people diagnosed with mouth, throat, and tongue cancer is 62. Symptoms could include open sores, white or red patches, or other changes that last 2 weeks or more.
Missing teeth – The majority of people over age 60 only have some of their natural teeth. Missing teeth can affect nutrition in seniors. It can be harder to chew nutritious foods such as fruits and vegetables when you are missing teeth or have dentures.
Having dentures, bridges, or crowns – Dentures replace your teeth. Crowns and bridges strengthen damaged teeth or replace missing ones. More seniors have problems with their teeth or missing teeth, so they have more of these than younger people.
Path to improved health
Many people think that losing teeth is part of getting older. But it doesn’t have to be. If you take good care of your teeth, they can last your whole life. Follow these tips for good oral health:
- Brush your teeth twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste.
- Floss your teeth every day.
- Get regular checkups with your dentist. Even if you have dentures, you should still see your dentist regularly.
- Limit starchy and sugary foods and drinks. Try rinsing your mouth out with water after you eat.
- Treat any symptoms of dry mouth you may have. You can drink extra water or use a saliva substitute or oral moisturizer. You can also use sugar-free gum, candy, or mints to moisten your mouth.
- See your doctor if you have sores or red or white patches in your mouth.
- Don’t use tobacco.
Things to consider
Maintaining good oral health is good for your mouth. It is also good for your overall health. Problems in your mouth have been linked to other chronic conditions. These include:
- Cardiovascular disease. The inflammation and infections in the mouth that come with gum disease could be linked to cardiovascular disease. This includes heart disease, clogged arteries, and stroke.
- Endocarditis. This is an infection of the lining of your heart. It can happen when harmful bacteria from your mouth travel through your bloodstream to your heart.
Take good care of your mouth, and you will be taking better care of the rest of you, too.
Questions to ask your doctor
- What oral conditions do I have that are related to aging?
- Can my condition be resolved with regular brushing and flossing?
- How often should I see my dentist for a checkup?
- How does my oral health affect my overall health?
- Am I at higher risk of developing a chronic disease if I have poor oral or dental health?
Copyright © American Academy of Family Physicians
This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.