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Senior Smiles: Tips for Oral Health and Aging

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Let’s face it - as we age, our bodies need a little more TLC than they once did. With a little extra attention, and the right team by your side, you can keep your smile secure for your senior years - gone are the days when things like dentures are seen as inevitable.

If you have concerns about your smile as you age, you are not alone! By the year 2030, we will have a population of 72M adults here in the USA that are 65 years or older.

With that in mind, Dr. Drew Mefford of our Bartlett - Appling North location addresses common questions and concerns about teeth and gum health as we age below. As always, if you have a specific concern, please feel free to call any of our Bellano Dental locations, and we will be happy to advise you.

What are some common issues that you see with patients as they start to age?

There are a few different factors we often see in these patients, some of which you might not expect since they are in other parts of the body.

The first is if we have a patient with decreased mobility or flexibility, or chronic issues in their hands or wrists, they may have a harder time brushing and flossing than they might have in the past. This can of course negatively affect their teeth and gums. Often one of the easiest ways to address this is to equip the patient with alternative tools that make things a little easier — such as swapping to an electric toothbrush or water flossing tool rather than manual brushing and flossing.

Another issue we can see is that a wide variety of medications can have the side effect of dry mouth. While most people think of this as merely inconvenient or uncomfortable, it actually can have a major negative impact on your oral health too. It can increase the risk of cavities especially because food and drink particles are sitting on your teeth rather than being washed away by your saliva. If a patient is struggling with dry mouth, we can help — be sure to mention it to your dentist!

Finally, as we age, even the best flosser or brusher may need some work done. Things like fillings may need to be refreshed, or there might be chipping or decay surrounding older dental work. We screen for these kinds of wear-and-tear issues at every regularly scheduled appointment and can help with things like applying fluoride during your visit. We can also help fit patients with a nightguard to help minimize wear and tear during the night due to things like grinding. Keeping up with your twice-a-year dental appointments is really important for patients of all ages.

Are there any particular concerns related to gum health with aging?

Yes actually! Studies show that 68% of the population 65+ have some level of gum disease - but of that, only 15% have severe or advanced gum disease. This means it is important that we catch it early so that we can address it for patients before it progresses to a severe state. Addressing periodontal disease (gum disease) helps patients keep their teeth, and older patients are at a higher risk for developing gum disease than the general population. So again, this is another great reason to keep those regular six-month appointments with your dentist. We can screen for this and add in additional preventive measures (like scaling) as needed.

What are the best ways to keep your teeth and gums healthy as you age?

Continuing good oral habits is key — keeping your regular appointments, brushing twice daily and flossing, utilizing a good mouthwash, staying hydrated, eating a balanced diet, and avoiding sugary or acidic beverages are all important. Additionally, smoking is a huge detriment to your oral health, so avoiding that is a good move for your mouth in addition to the rest of your body.

Are there any medications or medical procedures that can have negative side effects for gums and teeth older patients should be aware of?

One that we see sometimes is related to osteoporosis - some medications that can be helpful for the rest of your body and bones to harden as a treatment for osteoporosis can actually become a problem in the mouth because it degrades the jaw bone. Additionally, if you are on any blood pressure medications or blood thinners, it is really important for your dentist to know that before doing any dental work. And, with patients who are undergoing treatment for cancers, especially in the head and neck area, that can have a lot of negative side effects on your teeth and gums, but your dentist as a part of your care team can help work with your other doctors to help you keep as many of your teeth as possible.

What connections do you see between good dental health and good nutrition?

There is a big connection both ways! The better you take care of your teeth, the more foods you can enjoy, and a healthy diet of diverse foods is also beneficial for your teeth and gums. We see again and again that overall health is impacted by good oral health. Additionally, while in extreme circumstances dentures are a good replacement for no teeth, they are a terrible replacement for your own teeth — so holding on to as many of your own teeth as possible is vastly preferred.

What are some good alternatives to dentures for patients who are missing teeth?

There are a lot of great options — including dental implants, and bridge procedures. You have options! Talk to your dentist and see what is best for your unique situation.

If someone has had poor dental care throughout their life but wants to make it a priority now that they are older, is it “too late”?

No — it is never too late to make your dental health a priority! Even if a patient has very few remaining teeth or is facing total loss, there are things we can do that are more comfortable and effective than traditional dentures. We can do implants and bridges that can help restore chewing force and help them speak and smile with confidence! Please do not be embarrassed. Make an appointment, and our team will be happy to help you reach your smile goals.

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