Healthy Mouth Healthy Aging
As we age, body changes, medications, and years of use and abuse of our teeth come together to create dental conditions that may require increased dental attention. Good oral hygiene and regular dental care can minimize damage enabling you to keep your teeth for a lifetime. These are some of the problems associated with aging to look out for:
Periodontal disease (“gum disease”) is a bacterial infection in the gum tissue that starts with plaque buildup around some or all of the teeth from inadequate oral hygiene. Plaque can harden and turn into “tarter” or “calculus” which needs to be removed at a dental office to maintain healthy teeth and gums. If left untreated it can destroy the bone supporting the teeth. Common symptoms of periodontal disease include painful chewing, bleeding gums, bad breath, tooth sensitivity, receding gums and eventually tooth loss. Some people are at a higher risk of developing periodontal disease as a result of genetics, smoking, stress and side effects of medicines. Periodontal disease can be prevented with regular visits to the dentist and practicing good oral hygiene.
Dry mouth occurs when salivary glands do not make enough saliva to keep the mouth moist. It is a common side effect of more than 500 different medications. Decreased saliva and dry mouth can have a major impact on your general health and make it more difficult to talk and speak. Saliva helps prevent tooth decay by lubricating our teeth and mouth, and by decreasing the detrimental effects from sugar and acid, in the foods we eat. Talk to your doctor or dentist about ways to keep your mouth moist and minimize the potentially devastating effects of dry mouth.
Oral cancer is common in people older than age 50, causing thousands of deaths each year. There are many risk factors associated with oral cancer including tobacco use, alcohol use, HPV, sunlight exposure, and diet. Common symptoms associated with oral cancer are changes in the lips, tongue, or lining of the mouth that last more than a few weeks, open sores, and red or white patches around the mouth. Anything that looks abnormal and does not go away within two weeks should be evaluated by your dentist. If not detected early oral cancer can lead to disfigurement, loss of function, chronic pain, and may times death.
Poor oral health has also been linked to other diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and stroke.