Dental health is important at all stages of life and is an integral part of general health. As we grow older, our mouths change just as the rest of our bodies do. Nevertheless, it is never too late to make healthy lifestyle changes because improved dental health can lead to an overall better quality of life for the ageing patient.
Ageing & Dental Health
Keeping Teeth Healthy
Today, many people are able to retain more of their natural teeth well into older-age as a result of many improvements in at-home dental hygiene and professional treatment options.
Loosing teeth is not inevitable. You can maintain your smile for years to come with diligent care:
- Brush twice a day with a soft-bristled toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste. If you find holding a brush difficult, you may benefit from using an electric toothbrush with a round rotating head.
- Clean between your teeth once a day with floss or another interdental cleaner. There are special brushes with easy grip handles that we can recommend.
- If you wear dentures, remember to clean them on a daily basis using a soft-bristled brush and non-abrasive cleaner. Remove them at night by placing them in water or specialist cleaner. Remember to also clean the inside your your cheeks and tongue.
- Quit smoking to prevent gum disease, tooth decay and tooth loss.
- See us regularly for a complete dental check-up and professional cleaning even if you are not experiencing any pain or discomfort.
- Maintain a healthy diet rich in vitamins.
Dental Health Issues Affecting Older People
According to the Irish Dental Health Foundation, “the current cohort of older Irish people has low expectations in relation to their oral health and most only attend the dentist when they require treatment. Older people may suffer from tooth loss, affecting their quality of life. Ill fitting dentures can affect their ability to eat and speak properly. Older people in hospital or residential care may need help in maintaining their oral health”.
Decay (caries) on the root surfaces of teeth is more common in older adults.
As gum tissue naturally recedes with age, the soft root tissue of the tooth slowly becomes exposed. This part of the tooth is not protected by the enamel and is therefore more susceptible to rapid decay and sensitivity to hot and cold.
While the tooth surface does tend to erode naturally over time, you can halt the progression of root decay with regular brushing, flossing, and professional cleanings. In addition, fluoride rinses and gels, and varnishes or tooth-coloured fillings applied by the dentist can also help.
With every exam, we will check for conditions that put you at risk for developing root decay so it is important not to miss your regular check-ups. If decay is detected in its early stage, it may be possible to slow the progression of root decay or even reverse the damage in some cases.
Tooth wear increases with age. It is now more prevalent than in the past due to fact that more people are now retaining their teeth into older age. Tooth wear can be prevented and so identifying the potential cause early-on is key to maintaining a healthy smile.
Types of Tooth Wear
Erosion is typically caused by the frequent consumption of acidic food and drink such as fizzy drinks or fruit juices. This can also be a problem for people who have conditions such as acid reflux or regurgitation. The rate of erosion is also higher for people with dry mouth (xerostomia). To prevent erosion, we recommend reducing your intake of acidic foods and drinks or having them only along with a main meal, avoiding sipping or sucking on these products throughout the day and maintaining good oral hygiene.
This is when there is tooth wear as a result of grinding or clenching (bruxism). For people who suffer from bruxism, we often recommend a night-time mouthguard or relaxation therapies. See our page on stress and dental health to learn more.
This type of tooth wear is usually associated with incorrect toothbrushing techniques and can also be seen in people who use their teeth as a tool (remove bottle tops, hold pins, open packets etc.). We can give you instructions to help you adopt a new brushing technique or recommend changing toothpastes to help reduce abrasion.
Gum disease can affect people of all ages but especially people over 40 years. Gum disease can have two stages: gingivitis (early stage) and periodontal disease (advanced stage) which causes redness, soreness and swelling of the gums, bleeding, loosening of the teeth, receding gums, longer looking teeth or bad breath.
A number of factors affecting older people can increase the severity of gum disease:
- Poor oral hygiene
- Smoking or chewing tobacco
- Poor diet or nutrient deficiency
- Crooked teeth that are hard to keep clean
- Individuals with compromised immune systems
For more in-depth information about the symptoms and treatment options, see our page on gum disease.
Dry mouth (xerostomia) is a common problem for many older adults and is often a side-effect of certain medications or a symptom of a medical disorder. Dry mouth is uncomfortable and can also contribute to problems with your teeth as you have less saliva to rinse away decay-causing food particles and bacteria. It can also make eating, swallowing and speaking difficult.
If you are experiencing dry mouth, speak to a member of our team who can recommend various methods to restore moisture in your mouth. We recommend the use of specialised gels, rinses and toothpastes such as Biotene or Bioextra which can assist in decay prevention and can help alleviate some of the discomfort associated with dry mouth. Some people also find sipping on water or chewing sugar-free gum helpful.
It is very important to avoid sucking on sweets or sugary mints throughout the day to relieve the symptoms of dry mouth. The sugar in these products combined with the lack of saliva in the mouth will lead to rapid tooth decay.
Some people suffer from sharp pain in their mouths, especially when having hot or cold food or drink. This is often the result of the more sensitive root surface of the teeth becoming exposed due to gum recession. Sometimes, sensitivity can also be due to tooth decay, fractured/broken teeth, worn fillings or tooth wear. These are all conditions that become more common as we grow older.
Because your sensitivity can be the result of one of many different causes, it is important to seek advice from a member of our dental team if you are experiencing symptoms. The most common treatment may involve applying a tooth-coloured varnish to protect the site along with prescribing a desensitising toothpaste. In severe cases, a crown or veneer may be placed.
Many older people require dentures to replace multiple missing teeth. Whether you have a partial or full denture, it is important to maintain a good at-home care routine to keep your mouth healthy and your dentures in good condition. To learn more about denture treatment, see our page on replacing missing teeth.
Caring for Dentures
-Rinse your denture after every meal under a flowing tap.
-Try not to drop your denture. A folded cloth at the base of the sink will avoid damage if dropped while cleaning.
- clean thoroughly with water and a non-abrasive non-perfumed soap, such as simple soap
- clean your tongue, cheeks, and the roof of your mouth with a soft toothbrush
- store your denture in water at night
- twice a week, use a specialised cleaner such as Steradent to reduce any food build-up or staining on your denture. Do not use bleach.
-If you still have some of your natural teeth, remember to brush them twice daily and floss once daily
-Don’t wear your dentures 24 hours/day; give your gums time to rest
-Visit us regularly so that we can ensure your dentures are fitting and working properly in addition to checking for signs of oral cancer, gum disease and other conditions