Healthy Teeth: What You Need to Know as You Age

As you get older, it’s still important to take care of your teeth and gums. A mature adult mouth is susceptible to oral health issues. Here are a few things to remember to help keep your mouth healthy as you age.

Daily Diligence. Sometimes our early adult years don’t come with the best habits, but as you start to get older, the dentist’s recommendations remain key to keeping your teeth and gums healthy, intact, and functional. If you’ve been slacking on your regular oral health regimen, now is a great time to become more diligent.

As you probably know, it’s recommended that adults of all ages brush their teeth with a soft-bristle brush and fluoride toothpaste for two minutes, twice daily. Two minutes is probably longer than you think, so to get a better idea, you can listen to a short song (Elvis Presley’s “All Shook Up” is about two minutes long), or use a stopwatch. Another daily habit that is important for keeping your mouth healthy as you age is cleaning between your teeth. There are a couple of alternate techniques that can accomplish this if traditional dental floss isn’t your cup of swishing water. Disposable dental flossers with handles make it easier to reach the far corners of your mouth. Water flossers (like Waterpik), which use water pressure to clean bacteria and plaque from in between your teeth, are another popular option. While not a perfect substitute for flossing, these are helpful tools that some people think are fun to use, and they’re better than not flossing at all.

Make an Appointment. It’s recommended that older adults go to the dentist at least twice a year. According to the American Dental Association, as you age, the nerves in and around your teeth become smaller and less sensitive, sometimes letting cavities or other oral health problems persist unnoticed. Without regular trips to the dentist, these problems could go unchecked until it’s too late. Regular cleanings and checkups help dentists identify and quickly begin treatment on more serious issues, including advanced periodontal disease and mouth cancer.

Long-Term Effects of Gum Disease. Many people have some degree of gum disease, from mild gingivitis to advanced periodontal disease, but this can be largely avoided by implementing the healthy habits above. Focusing on prevention with gum disease is important due to the serious long-term effects and complications it can cause.

Some people assume that tooth loss is a given, but that’s far from the truth. Your teeth can last a lifetime, if cared for properly. The problems begin only when bacteria is left unchecked in the mouth and around the gumline. As the bacteria causes the gums to become more inflamed and diseased, it can cause the bone around your teeth to shrink away, causing your teeth to get loose and eventually be lost. Excess bacteria in your mouth can also get into the bloodstream, causing a host of other more serious health complications including heart attack, stroke, and worsening of pre-existing conditions.

Dry Mouth. Saliva plays a key role in keeping your mouth clean and healthy. This necessary, natural secretion neutralizes acids in the mouth and helps rinse debris from in between the teeth and around the gums. Dry mouth happens naturally as you age, and many medications available today list dry mouth as one of the side effects and can make it worse. Because of this and many other reasons, it is critical to tell your dental care provider about all medications you are taking.Dry mouth can contribute to bacteria growth and therefore gum disease, cavities, and general discomfort or difficulty swallowing. Drinking water consistently throughout the day is one way to help keep these effects at bay. You can also talk to your dentist about oral moisturizers, such as a spray or mouthwash.

Make a Plan. Many people don’t think about dental care when planning for retirement. Medicare doesn’t cover regular trips to the dentist or special procedures. Remember to budget for regular dental cleanings and checkups, as well as possible future dental work.

 

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