With age comes wisdom, right? Well, not always. For many adults, getting older means that unfamiliar oral health concerns are now a reality. And the population facing these concerns is only getting bigger. By 2060, the U.S. Census Bureau predicts the number of adults 65 and older will reach 98 million. That’s 24 percent of the US population! As this group grows, more individuals are seeking information about oral health in older adults. We detail how to avoid the most common issues for an aging mouth: dry mouth, cavities, cancer, and pain.
Solutions for Common Problems with Aging Teeth and Gums
WebMD lists the most common oral health problems for older adults:
[alt text: Common oral health problems for older adults include dry mouth (Xerostomia), cavities(dental caries), darkened teeth, gum disease (gingivitis), tooth loss, uneven jawbone, and thrush.]
Here are our top four tips for older adults who are facing these common oral health problems for an aging mouth:
Tip #1: Drink Water to Prevent Cavities
Some older adults experience cavities when they didn’t get them as kids. Well, cavities aren’t just for kids! Older adults may experience higher rates of cavities and tooth loss when compared to young adults. There’s a myth among older populations: “Dry mouth comes naturally with age.” This is false! Though many older adults experience dry mouth, your dentist can almost always point to the reason why.
Your mouth relies on saliva to help wash away harmful bacteria. Without enough of it, plaque gets to stick around longer, which can lead to cavities and gum disease. Consider if your dry mouth is being caused by prescriptions, disease, chemotherapy, or radiation therapy. Talk to your dentist and your doctor. They are happy to work with you to determine the cause of dry mouth. Once you find the cause, special toothpaste, rinses, and sprays can be recommended, as well as medication changes. We also recommend drinking more water.
Challenge yourself to be aware of when you feel thirsty and grab a glass of water. It’s also very important to limit your alcohol intake, especially when on medications. Alcohol is a large contributor to dry mouth.
Tip #2: Brush and Floss Daily to Prevent Gum Disease
When plaque is allowed to stick around for more than 24 hours, it coats the teeth and moves to hide under the gumline where a toothbrush can’t reach. As the layer of plaque builds from a lack of adequate brushing and flossing, the gums become inflamed and irritated. This is called gingivitis. The irritated gum tissue begins to pull away from the tooth, and the worse it gets, the less secure your teeth are. This advanced gum disease is called periodontitis. It can lead to bone and tissue loss, as well as tooth loss. As it progresses, teeth may start to feel loose or move around in the mouth. About two out of three older adults over 65 have gum disease. Ongoing studies show that people with gum disease are more likely to have a heart attack, stroke, or other serious health events. Talk to your dentist right away if you notice any of these symptoms.
Tip #3: Quit Tobacco, Limit Alcohol to Prevent Oral Cancer
The elimination of smoking and tobacco use is critical to prevent a variety of different oral health complications. Bad breath, tooth discoloration, dry mouth, and cancer are all side effects of smoking or consuming tobacco. Although cases in young adults are on the rise, the average age that oral cancer is diagnosed is 62.
The American Cancer Society predicts that about 53,000 people will get oral or oropharyngeal cancer in 2019. Of those, about 10,860 people won’t survive the diagnosis. That’s 21 percent.
Tobacco and excessive alcohol use are the strongest risk factors. About 7 in 10 patients with oral cancer are heavy drinkers. Smoking and oral tobacco use are linked with cancers of the cheek, gums, and inner surface of the lips. Pipe smoking is linked to a high risk of cancer where the lips touch the pipe stem.
If you need help quitting, there are local resources available to support you right now.
If you think any of these oral cancer symptoms sound familiar, talk to your dentist or doctor right away.
Tips #4: Oral Health Tools to Prevent Pain
When a mouth isn’t receiving the proper care, it can be painful to brush and floss. Ensure all smiles, including aging teeth and gums, are flossed and brushed twice a day to prevent the consequences of plaque buildup. Some older adults experience discomfort during their oral care routine because of arthritis or other painful dexterity issues. Using an electric toothbrush instead of a manual one allows for a strong grip for proper control. It also puts less stress on hand muscles and prevents irritating existing pain conditions. Flossing can be made a much easier task with a water flosser or floss pick. Talk to your dentist to learn which products would be best for you and your lifestyle!
The right dental plan is key to maintaining oral health in older adults. Contact us to learn more about the specifics of your coverage.
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