Of the many concerns we face as we get older, the health of our teeth is among the most important. There is a misconception that it is a natural part of aging to lose our teeth. While our teeth do experience wear and tear over the years, consistent visits to the dentist can help. There is no reason that losing our teeth has to be an inevitable part of getting older. No matter our age, we can take steps to help preserve our teeth and keep our smiles for a lifetime.
The Dental Risks Associated With Aging
Research has shown that our oral health does require additional care as we get older. However, this isn’t simply due to aging. In fact, in most cases, it’s the result of not receiving sufficient dental care over the years. Other factors that influence greater oral concerns incidents in older patients are increasing difficulty performing normal dental routines. Even with this considered, a lack of proper dental care makes the greatest difference. Other factors that have a role to play in failing oral health in the elderly:
- Reduced access to dental insurance
- Environmental factors
- Economic disadvantage
- Weakening enamel
- Growing health concerns
- Genetic factors
- Difficulty brushing as a result of reduced physical ability
- Poor blood flow in gingival tissue due to dilated vessels
The above list is some of the primary contributors to the senior oral health crisis. Another serious concern that impacts the ability of the elderly to get dental care is a lack of proper insurance. Those on social security and Medicaid/Medicare often have difficulty affording proper dental treatment. They may also have other health concerns that make it difficult for them to keep up with a consistent dental hygiene routine. As a result, there are numerous oral health problems that commonly haunt senior patients:
- Gum Recession: To a small degree, gum recession occurs as we age. While relatively harmless on its own, it does expose our dental roots to bacteria and acids. Softer than the crown enamel, it’s easy for cavities to develop in these areas.
- Tooth Decay: Even with proper dental hygiene practices, our enamel can thing as we age. While it is the strongest substance in the human body, it can wear down. If a solid dental hygiene routine isn’t kept up, then the process can happen even faster. The end results in both cases is a higher risk of cavities.
- Endodontic Tooth Pain: Thinning enamel can also lead to our gums becoming more sensitive to environmental factors over time. Exposure to sugars, acidic food, and even temperature changes can bring on toothache. We’re also more likely to develop tooth necrosis, root calcification, and pulp infections as we age.
- Dry Mouth: While dry mouth is not a consequence of aging, it can be the result of medication being taken for other health concerns. Without saliva to help protect our teeth and wash away debris, we become more susceptible to oral health problems. This includes thrush, a rare form of yeast infection that can occur in the mouth.
Improved Access to Consistent Dentistry Is The Answer
There’s no one approach that will ease oral health concerns in elderly patients. However, consistent visits to the dental office and a steady routine of dental hygiene are the most effective steps we can take. With sufficient care, our teeth will be with us for a lifetime.