Older Adults Are at Higher Risk for Tooth Loss. Here’s What You Can Do to Keep Your Natural Teeth.
While tooth loss is more common among adults over 60, there’s no reason to consider it as an inevitable part of the aging process.
In recognition of September as Healthy Aging Month, we’re focusing on how to prevent tooth loss and maintain excellent oral health well into your golden years. While many people assume that losing their teeth is a normal part of getting older, the truth is that it doesn’t have to be. There are certain factors associated with aging that increase the risk of tooth loss, but proper oral hygiene and other preventive measures will help you hold onto those beautiful pearly whites!
Why Is Tooth Loss More Common Among Older Adults?
Higher incidence of tooth loss among older adults can be due to the cumulative effects of many years, whether because of poor oral hygiene practices, life circumstances, or other health problems. Studies show that low income, health status, and a lack of dental insurance are associated with greater tooth loss. Also, the length of time since your last dental visit is another key element affecting oral health.
A practical consideration that many retirees don’t realize is that Medicare does not cover dental expenses, including routine visits. It’s important to plan for your dental expenses in advance so that your oral health won’t take a hit once you’re on a fixed income.
There are other factors that can also make it harder for seniors to maintain good oral health:
- Receding gums. Many people experience receding gums as they age, probably because they have had some degree of gum disease for many years already. After all, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found that at least half of Americans have gingivitis or its more severe forms. Among adults over age 65, 17.2% have periodontal disease, a serious condition in which the gums pull away from the teeth. This recession exposes the tooth roots and leaves a gap where infections can develop. Early treatment is the best strategy for beating gum disease. Even if you end up experiencing some tooth loss due to periodontal disease, all is not lost! Dental implants look just like your natural teeth and help you avoid bone loss in the jaw. Penn Dental Family Practice has expertise in prosthodontics, a hard-to-find dental specialty that provides the most sophisticated restoration treatments in the field. You can learn more about dental implants in our complimentary guide, available for download: “The Importance of Replacing Missing Teeth: Restore Your Oral Health with Dental Implants.”
- Dry mouth. Seniors are more likely to experience dry mouth. Although dry mouth is not a normal part of aging, it is a side effect of over 500 medications, including those for high cholesterol, high blood pressure, anxiety, depression, pain, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s. Saliva protects teeth from bacteria due to its function of continually “washing out” the mouth. Having less saliva puts you at increased risk for cavities, so be sure to tell your dentist about any medications you’re taking.
- Limited mobility. Sometimes, other health problems make it more difficult to maintain good oral care and visit the dentist regularly. Because the frequency of dental visits is a key factor in the prevention of tooth loss, it is particularly important to have a way to ensure you’re receiving regular care at the dentist. In some cases, a caregiver may be needed so that you can keep getting dental cleanings, oral screenings, and other preventive treatments at the dentist’s office.
7 Tips for Preventing Tooth Loss
In light of these challenges, we’ve developed a list of helpful tips to promote a healthy mouth:
- Brush your teeth often. You’ve heard it before, and it’s true: regular brushing (twice a day, every 12 hours is recommended) makes an enormous difference to your oral health. You should be brushing the teeth lightly for two full minutes each night before bed. When brushing is the last thing you do at night, your mouth will stay relatively clean during sleep. However, if you eat after brushing, you’ve removed this protective effect by giving food to the bacteria in your mouth. Make sure that you re-brush if you end up eating a snack before bed.
- Try a different brush. If arthritis is causing you to struggle to brush your teeth, you can buy a brush with a bigger handle or better yet, an electric toothbrush. This small change can make a big difference because it removes a major discomfort in the process. Also, if you’re looking for a dentist, Penn Dental Family Practice is offering a free electric Oral-B toothbrush to new patients who use our contact form to schedule their appointment.
- Keep the dentist up to date on your medications. We cannot overstate the importance of keeping your dentist in the loop about any drugs you are taking. Even if it doesn’t seem to be relevant, be sure to take the time to list all medications during your intake. The dentist can work with you to find solutions for dry mouth if this turns out to be a problematic side effect.
- Drink more water. If you’re taking medication, it’s a good idea to carry a water bottle around. Drinking water throughout the day will help keep you hydrated, and decrease your likelihood of developing cavities.
- Use sugar-free gum. Lozenges or sugar-free gum are also useful in stimulating saliva production.
- Get a humidifier. Especially if you live in a dry area or it’s wintertime, a humidifier will keep moisture in the air. When you breathe in, that moist air won’t dry out your mouth (especially at night when you’re sleeping). This simple addition to your living space can help a great deal if dry mouth is a problem for you.
- Avoid irritants. Certain foods and beverages can exacerbate dry mouth, including coffee, alcohol, carbonated soft drinks, and fruit juices. If you do drink one of these, be sure to consume plenty of water in between and afterwards to keep your mouth from drying out.
And Don’t Forget to Visit the Dentist
Visiting the dentist regularly is still one of the most crucial steps you can take to keep your teeth healthy for years to come. At Penn Dental Family Practice, we offer age-specific services for the entire family. We are knowledgeable about the unique needs of older adults, providing first-line treatment and prevention strategies so that you can focus on living life to its fullest. To learn more about our services or to schedule an appointment, please call 215-898-7337 today.