The definitive dental guide for over-60s

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Maintaining good dental health is important as we age.

Many people are able to keep their teeth longer than ever before these days thanks to the wonders of modern medicine. But dental problems can arise later in life if proper care and maintenance is not maintained.

While gum disease and tooth loss can be common with age, they aren’t necessarily an inevitable part of ageing and can be avoided with good oral habits.

The five most common dental problems for over-60s

1. Gum Diseases

If your gums start to swell, remain red or bleed easily you may have gingivitis, which is an early form of gum disease that can be troublesome if not properly treated. If left untreated gingivitis can progress to periodontitis, which sees the gums pull away from the teeth and create pockets that can become infected and lead to tooth loss.

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2. Oral Cancer

More than 43,000 Americans are diagnosed with oral cancer annually and roughly 8,000 will die from the disease according to the Oral Cancer Foundation. Your chances of developing oral cancer increase as you age and it is often linked to smoking and heavy alcohol consumption. Recent studies have also linked the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) to oral cancer.

3. Xerostomia

This is a medical term for ‘dry mouth’. Saliva production tends to decrease as you age, causing dry mouth, which can lead to tooth decay. Saliva keeps the mouth moist as well as washing the teeth constantly of food to help reduce bacteria and neutralise harmful acids. Many medications have been found to reduce saliva production without actually identifying the main cause of it. Keep yourself well hydrated and consume foods that help with saliva production such as fruits and vegetables.

4. Recurrent Caries

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This is when tooth decay happens under an existing filling or any other previous dental work. It can be due to poor oral hygiene or by development of a microscopic pathway for leakage past the restoration. The treatment will vary according to how bad the decay is and may involve inlays, veneers or crowns. If the decay has already reached the inner part of the tooth then you may require root canal treatments. If a tooth with recurrent caries has to be extracted, then the dental implants and removable dentures are possible options.

5. Tooth Decay

Cavities can appear at any age, but we are more susceptible as we get older and our teeth soften and become thinner. Cavities most commonly develop at the surface and root of teeth and around old fillings. The best ways to avoid cavities include brushing and flossing twice a day, chewing sugar-free gum after meals and avoiding sugary foods and drinks.

6. Diabetes

Diabetes has been linked to a greater risk of developing oral health problems. Controlling blood glucose levels can help reduce the risk of oral complications.

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  • Gum Disease: Research indicates that there is a connection between gum disease and diabetes. Gum disease tends to be more frequent and more severe for those suffering from diabetes.
  • Fungal Infection: Fungal infections are likely to develop as people with diabetes suffer from a weaker immune system. Symptoms of a fungal infection are that you have difficulty swallowing and suffer from painful sores.
  • Infections and Delayed Healing: If you are having oral surgery then your surgeon will prescribe antibiotics to reduce the chances of infection.

Professional cleanings at your dentist’s office can help curb the progression of gum disease and other oral health problems. Regularly scheduled dental checkups and periodontal screenings are important to evaluate your overall dental health as well as to treat dental problems in their initial stages.

How often do you go to the dentist? Have you noticed many changes in your teeth as you age?