As we age, we must show our body more care. And our teeth are no exception
It probably won’t surprise you to learn that your teeth weaken and deteriorate with age. But what might surprise you is just what this means for your mouth.
According to Harvard Medical School, people over 65 experience higher rates of gum disease, dental decay, oral cancer, mouth infections and tooth loss. The good news is there’s a lot you can do to remove some of that risk and keep your mouth feeling and looking younger.
Let’s run through a few ways to keep your teeth in great shape as you age.
1. A drying mouth is more prone to decay
There are a few reasons why your mouth doesn’t create enough saliva and gets drier as you age. Medications, lifestyle and some medical conditions all contribute to dry mouth. Whatever the reason, a dry mouth makes your teeth and gums more vulnerable to cavities and disease.
So what can you do?
Good oral hygiene is essential. You should brush for two minutes twice a day, floss or use interdental brushes once a day (we can show you the best technique at your next appointment), and rinse your mouth with water after eating. Drinking more water so you’re properly hydrated throughout the day also helps.
Many over-the-counter medications and prescribed antibiotics will dry your mouth out, too. A chronically dry mouth is not only uncomfortable but can also make eating and swallowing difficult, cause bad breath, and put you at higher risk of tooth decay. So if your regular medication is causing problems for your oral health, here are some things to try:
- chewing sugarless gums
- sucking on sugarless lollies
- drinking more water
- buying over-the-counter artificial saliva.
And while we really don’t like to be the fun police, try moderating or avoiding tobacco, alcohol and caffeine. These three will dry your saliva up. It’s not just us being prudes. We promise.
2. Your teeth’s nerves become less sensitive to pain
There are a few reasons why this happens.
Your teeth wear down over time
Teeth are incredibly strong. Your molars can bear down with immense pressure. But they’re not indestructible. A lifetime of crunching, clenching and grinding wears away the tooth’s protective enamel which, once gone, exposes the softer layer of dentine. Clenching and grinding can also create small cracks in the teeth, which may result in them breaking. The natural progression of your teeth wearing down as you age is why you may need to consider dental restoration or dental implant options that wouldn’t have crossed your mind before.
You might miss the important signs
Teeth are likely to become more sensitive with age. Less enamel and the likelihood of gum recession and root surface exposure that comes with aging, means you’re more likely to experience the first sign of trouble: pain.
If the discomfort is bearable (i.e. just a little niggle), then you may (quite fairly) think nothing’s wrong. But those little niggles can be an early indicator of a more serious infection bubbling away under the surface. If they’re left to develop you may be up for root canal therapy or even tooth removal.
Cavities are also more likely to occur at the neck of the tooth—the area around the gum line—because your gums recede with age, exposing more of the soft root underneath. Adults who grew up before dental sealants and fluoride products are also prone to decay around their childhood fillings.
It’s not just teeth that become less sensitive with age
Just like the nerves inside your teeth, your tastebuds can also become less sensitive with age. This can lead you to over-flavour your food with too much salt, sugar or acidic ingredients. And while we all know that can be bad for our health, it can also be bad for your teeth.
Okay, enough of the negative news for a minute. Here are some active steps you can take to keep your aging teeth in good nick.
H4: With regular checkups you can stay on top of things
What this all means is that regular dental checkups become an essential part of prevention. Not only do your teeth and gums get a much-needed clean and scale, they’re also checked in ways you can’t do at home. And if you come in regularly enough, problems are caught early before they become a big problem.
3. Aging gum tissue naturally recedes. But modern dentistry can help
Let’s talk a bit more about our gums receding as we get older. As we said earlier, the gums protect a tooth’s root but recede with age. Receding gums can lead to pain and sensitivity, and affect how you feel about your smile because they expose more of the tooth’s root tissue. This leaves your mouth vulnerable to decay, infection and inflammation.
Inflamed gums are increasingly being linked to diabetes, heart disease and stroke. These conditions are all more prevalent later in life, and scientists believe they’re linked to bacteria from gum infections travelling through the body and triggering inflammation in other sites.
Identifying gum recession is difficult because they wear away very slowly. Sometimes it’s so gradual that the first sign is sensitivity in or around your tooth. It’s also hard to pin down a single cause of gum recession. The problem is often a combination of habits:
- over-brushing or brushing too hard
- not brushing enough (which can lead to gum disease)
- flossing too vigorously
- plain ol’ aging.
The good news?
Gum grafting is a form of modern dentistry that reverses the effects of receding gums and the associated risks.
If you’re concerned about your gums and the exposure of your teeth, here’s where you can read more about gum grafting.
4. The tissue inside your teeth yellows with age
Have you noticed your once-sparkling smile yellowing over the years? It happens for a few reasons, the main one being enamel stains. But a big part of the change is the yellowing of the dentin (the tissue underneath the enamel), which shows through more as your enamel thins and cracks with age.
Unfortunately, once the dentin starts to yellow there’s no way to reverse the process. But if you want whiter teeth in your latter years, here are a few things to have in moderation (or avoid altogether):
- red wine
- brightly coloured foods such as beetroot.
Consuming these five common things regularly will gradually stain your tooth enamel. Yeah, we’re still being party poopers. We know. (Can you really start your day without coffee?)
The other option is to chat to us about a whitening procedure.
At Keppel Dental we offer a monitored home whitening treatment. It’s affordable, convenient, non-invasive, and safer and healthier for your teeth and gums. However, sometimes whitening treatments are less effective in older teeth. And some whitening ingredients can make your teeth extra sensitive. That’s why it’s always a good idea to talk with your dentist before starting any kind of treatment.
5. When brushing and flossing become harder, use clever tools to adapt
A common pitfall of aging is arthritic hands and fingers. There’s no silver lining here, we know. It’s painful and makes many things difficult.
If brushing has become difficult because of arthritis, try using an electric toothbrush. Guide the moving brush head slowly from tooth to tooth, following the contours of the tooth and the curve of the gums.
Flossing also becomes a fuss as hands and fingers become less nimble. So much so that sticking your fingers into your mouth with thin cords strung between them just isn’t possible.
Happily, there are modern alternatives to the standard floss string and awkward hands-in-mouth approach. You could try:
- floss threaders and floss picks
- bottle-brush shaped interdental cleaners
- brushes with interdental tips (flexible rubber tips)
- irrigators (electrically powered water-pumping devices).
These are all less invasive and easier to manipulate for less nimble hands and fingers.
6. Your lower jaw grows forward as you age
Everybody’s lower jaw grows forward as they age. This growth changes your jaw shape and affects your bite. Over time, gaps in your upper teeth, and overcrowding and overlapping in your lower teeth as they move, may become more apparent.
Changes in facial bone structure are a completely natural part of aging. But if you become concerned about gaps and the positioning of your teeth as your jaw grows, speak to your dentist. Maintaining regular dental appointments allows your dental practitioner to keep track of the slow changes occurring in your mouth. They can then keep you better informed of anything they notice, giving you plenty of time to make a call on any treatment you may want to consider such as orthodontics.
Book a check up to maintain great oral health as you age
It’s never too early to start putting plans in place to ensure your teeth age gracefully. (Or at least healthily, if grace isn’t your thing.)
In Yeppoon or Rockhampton? Give us a buzz and book your appointment today. We’re your local dentists with exceptional know-how. We’ll thoroughly check the state of your teeth and gums, and let you know if there are any changes you need to be aware of.