As dentists, we treat a lot of seniors. Some of them are grandparents we treated when they were younger parents — we now treat their grown-up children and their grandchildren too. That’s what it means to be a family dentist of multi-generations: You get to watch the Cleveland community grow and age, but the smiles remain. In a way, a dentist chair holds the great circle of life — one smile at a time.
And the senior community is growing. In fact, the number of U.S. adults 65 years or older will reach 72 million by 2030 — 20% of the population, double what it was in 2000, according to the US Census Bureau.
As dentists, we can tell you that seniors have unique dental care needs. As we grow older, change is inevitable — and some changes mean an increased risk of cavities, gum disease, and oral cancer. Here are the dental challenges you can expect when you get older — and everyday things you can do to maintain healthy teeth and gums, no matter your age.
Dental Changes You Can Expect as You Age
As a senior, you’ll face an increased risk of cavities — a second round of cavity prone years. That’s because of changes that are taking place in your mouth. You aren’t producing as much saliva as you used to — dry mouth in seniors is common. And this can lead to tooth decay because there is less fluid to wash away harmful bacteria.
For seniors, gum disease can also be a problem. This is caused by bacteria in plaque that irritates the gums — making them swollen, red, and more likely to bleed. It can also lead to receding gums, exposing the roots of teeth, and can even cause tooth loss. One reason gum disease is so common among older people is that it’s a painless condition that often goes unnoticed until the advanced stages — when the real damage is done.
Seniors can also experience darkened teeth — caused by changes in dentin, the layer of teeth beneath your tooth enamel, and by a lifetime of consuming foods and beverages that stain your teeth.
Dry Mouth & Medication — What to Do About It
We mentioned that you’ll experience dry mouth as your body changes, which can lead to an increase in cavities. Dry mouth is also a side effect of many medications, including those for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, pain, anxiety or depression, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases — conditions experienced by seniors.
That’s why dentists recommend counteracting this dry mouth with over the counter oral moisturizers, such as a spray or mouthwash. Make sure to drink plenty of water. Chew sugar-free gum throughout the day to encourage saliva production.
Increased Risk of Cancer
There are over 35,000 cases of mouth, throat, and tongue cancer diagnosed each year, according to the American Cancer Society. The average age most people are diagnosed with these cancers is 62. As you age, your risk of cancer increases, especially if you’ve previously used tobacco.
Keep in mind that the early stages of oral cancer do not cause pain. Early detection saves lives. That’s why it’s important to see a dentist regularly — every 6 months. In addition to cleaning your teeth and giving a dental examination, we’ll also screen your mouth for oral cancer. If we haven’t seen you for a while, it’s time to pay our dentist office in Middleburg Heights a visit.
How to Maintain Healthy Teeth & Gums as a Senior
Maintaining a healthy smile as a senior really isn’t that much different than when you were younger — it just becomes more critical. Make sure to brush twice for two minutes each day with a fluoride-containing toothpaste; floss once per day. Rinse with an antiseptic mouthwash once or twice per day.
See a dentist regularly. This is important no matter what age you are, but in the golden years, dental visits are absolutely critical. Give us a call and schedule an appointment at our dentist office in Middleburg Heights.