Thanks to advancements in medical technology, we’re living longer than we ever have. By 2030 the entire Baby Boom generation will be 65 or older, and this age group will account for 20 percent of the population. As we age, it is important to be prepared for the oral health issues that may present themselves. Knowing what to look for and how to take great care of our health can help make these years some of our best.
When we don’t produce enough saliva, our mouths become more acidic, and an acidic environment speeds up tooth decay. Dry mouth (Xerostomia) can be a side effect of many different medications, and can also be caused by radiation treatment. Products like Colgate Hydris, Biotene, Xylimelts and others can help ease the dry sensation, but more is needed to protect teeth. We typically recommend adding more fluoride to your tooth care routine to strengthen your enamel and make it more resistant to decay. Depending on your risk factors, we may suggest a prescription fluoride toothpaste or custom fluoride trays.
Most people have some degree of gum recession, but this can worsen as we get older. Recession exposes the roots of the teeth, which are covered by a layer of dentin without protective enamel. Dentin is much softer than enamel, so decay on the root of the tooth progresses much faster than decay on its crown. The combination of root surface exposure and dry mouth can lead to large amounts of decay in very little time. We recommend fluoride for root exposure as well as increased attention to daily at-home care of your teeth. Removing plaque at the gumline is important to help you prevent decay and to slow the advancement of gum recession. Your hygienist will discuss the best homecare aids for you.
Muscle weakness can decrease our ability to brush and floss effectively, as can diseases like arthritis, Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson’s and others. If this is the case, a brush with a larger handle or an electric toothbrush may be the best option for you. A flosser with a long handle may aid you in flossing hard to reach areas. If you’ve noticed you’re having trouble, ask your hygienist to provide you with the best options to brush and floss effectively.
For those of us serving as caregivers, it’s important to know how best to care for a patient’s oral health when they can no longer understand or do it themselves. Here is a great guide from Tooth Wisdom about the step-by-step process of caring for another’s teeth. As a caregiver, never hesitate to call your patient’s dentist, we are happy to assist you!
Preparing ourselves to deal with the changes that come with age can help us enjoy longer lives in good health. If you have noticed that any of these issues are affecting you or someone you care for, please let us know so we can help you achieve and maintain great oral health. Don’t hesitate to ask questions about any of these issues or others that are on your mind at your next visit–we are here and eager to help.
Institute on Aging
A Place for Mom
American Dental Association