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Keeping Mouths, Teeth, Gums Healthy as We Age

BrayanShanahanAs people age, oral health needs change as well. Here are some things to think about:

Decreased Sensitivity You may begin to experience less pain or discomfort in your mouth, but this may not mean that your mouth is healthy. In some older adults, nerve changes may lessen sensitivity. That’s one reason it’s important to see your dentist regularly, as your dentist can check for signs of tooth decay, gum disease, poorly fitting dentures and oral cancer.

Dry Mouth A number of factors can cause dry mouth, including many medications. This can be detrimental; as saliva helps you eat and talk. It washes food away from the teeth and lessens the effect of acids in the mouth that can cause tooth decay. Saliva also carries minerals that keep teeth strong. To combat the effects of dry mouth, take sips of water throughout the day. You can also suck on sugar-free lozenges or chew sugar-free gum. Avoid alcohol and tobacco. A saliva substitute may also help.

Gum Problems Anyone can develop gum disease. Caused by a build-up of plaque, gum disease affects the attachment between your teeth and gums. Left untreated, gum disease may result in tooth loss. Older adults may also experience receding gums, which exposes the roots. Teeth with exposed roots may be at increased risk of devolving decay or becoming loose. To combat gum problems, brush your teeth twice a day with a soft toothbrush along the gum line using toothpaste that contains fluoride. Clean between your teeth with floss or another tool designed for this task once a day. See your dentist regularly, because plaque can harden along the gum line, making it difficult to keep your teeth clean on your own. A professional cleaning is the only way to remove hardened plaque.

Tooth Decay Several factors can increase your risk of experiencing tooth decay and causing cavities: sugars in food and drinks, dry mouth and not cleaning your teeth every day, and exposed tooth roots. Even teeth with fillings or crowns can develop cavities. Luckily, the things you do to help prevent gum problems are the same things that can help you avoid cavities. Brush your teeth twice a day with a soft toothbrush along the gum line using a fluoride containing toothpaste, clean between your teeth once a day, and see your dentist regularly. Your dentist may suggest that you also use a fluoride containing mouth rinse or an in-office fluoride treatment or varnish.

Tooth Loss Tooth loss can affect what you eat and how you look, talk and feel. You may be able to restore your smile with implants or a partial or full denture. No matter how many teeth you have (even if you have lost them all), see your dentist regularly. Your dentist can check that all is well in your mouth by looking for things like sores, irritation and oral cancer. FBN


By Bryan J. Shanahan, DDS

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