As a nation, we Brits are living longer. It’s estimated that the UK has 11 million people aged 65 and over. That’s around 19% of the total population. Among the reasons for an increase in longevity are better and improved healthcare and a greater understanding of what it means to be healthy.
Yet, older people still suffer proportionately high rates of gum disease, dental decay, tooth loss and mouth infections. Of course, that isn’t anything to smile about, but when it comes to dental care for seniors, there is a lot that we can do to keep teeth and gums healthy as we age. With this in mind, here are some tips to keep teeth and gums looking and feeling great for longer.
Turning the tide of wear and tear
Among the many unfortunate factors of ageing is weakening enamel. Even though teeth can typically withstand 200 lbs of bite pressure, they are not indestructible. A lifetime of chewing, crunching and grinding can take its toll, often resulting in thinning enamel and worn teeth.
While there isn’t much you can do about the natural wear and tear of the tooth itself, the cornerstones of cavity prevention – brushing, flossing and regular dental visits – remain important, especially as we creep towards our senior years.
To aid enamel protection further, try using fluoride protection. Typically this mineral is found in several types of toothpaste – Colgate’s Cavity Protection Fluoride Toothpaste is one example. Alternatively, fluoride mouthwashes can also give you that added protection.
In addition, ask your dentist about fluoride gels, varnishes and rinses. These are applied to teeth as a preventative measure to protect them from dental problems like cavities. Fluoride gels can even halt the progression of root decay and, in some cases, reverse the process. For this reason, your dentist is the perfect ally in helping you maintain a healthy smile as you age.
Another side effect of thinning tooth enamel is yellowing teeth. The dentin inside the tooth can discolour as we age and will be visible through the enamel resulting in a white smile that gradually fades over time. Furthermore, certain antihistamines or high blood pressure medications can also darken teeth.
Thankfully, teeth whitening products play a big part in dental care for seniors and can help maintain a whiter, brighter smile for longer. Whitening toothpaste and rinses will remove light surface discolouration like tea and coffee stains, but the results might not last.
As a top tip, ask your dentist about over-the-counter professional teeth whitening. These are whitening treatments carried out, or supervised by, a dental professional. Many are formulated to be gentle, like Phillips Zoom and are ideal for older people or those with sensitive teeth and can provide longer-lasting results.
Don’t forget your gums
Periodontal disease, characterised by receding gums, is the primary cause of tooth loss in older people. It starts when plaque builds up on the gum line – the shallow trough where the tooth and gums meet.
While ageing isn’t a cause of gum disease, a lack of ability in older people to reach all areas of the mouth may mean the condition goes undetected for many years.
Fortunately, plaque build-up is treatable at any age using a combination of scaling to remove the now-hardened plaque plus a course of antibiotics to tackle any infected gum tissue. In advanced cases, dentists can also turn to surgical processes to reshape the gum around the bone or to graft new tissue onto receding gums to ensure an even gum line.
Because the best dental care for seniors is prevention, regular hygiene visits in conjunction with periodic dental check-ups should be enough to keep plaque at bay and gums healthy.
A little bit of spit goes a long way
Did you know that saliva is essential in the fight against gum disease and tooth decay? When a thin layer of saliva covers the teeth, it acts as a buffer against harmful bacteria. Moreover, antimicrobial peptides in saliva, like lactoferrins, lysozymes, and hydrogen peroxide, are particularly good at eradicating disease-causing bacteria. Saliva also helps to wash out any lingering sugar from the mouth and prevents acid from causing damage.
The problem is that as we age, we’re more prone to taking medications like calcium channel blockers to lower blood pressure or atrophic drugs to treat an overactive bladder. Such medicines are known to cause dry mouth. This, coupled with changes in the body’s ability to process drugs, means that many older people suffer from dry mouth.
So what can be done?
If you suffer from dry mouth, try chewing sugarless gum. Chewing gum is a great way to stimulate the saliva glands to produce more of that bacteria-busting saliva. If gum isn’t your thing, something as simple as drinking more water can also help, particularly if it’s held in the mouth for a few seconds before swallowing.
If dry mouth is a problem, remember to pay more attention to brushing and flossing because of the increased possibility of gum disease and cavities.
Be aware of the body/mouth connection
The well-being of an ageing mouth is often a good indicator of the body’s overall health. It’s true!
There is mounting evidence to support that gum inflammation is directly linked to conditions like heart disease, respiratory disorders and strokes.
Scientists suggest that bacteria from the mouth can travel down through the bloodstream and trigger inflammation in tissues and organs at other sites. For diabetes, the result goes the opposite way and uncontrolled blood sugars travel up into the mouth and damage blood vessels that would otherwise keep the gums healthy. Either way, it’s fair to say that the state of the mouth is a pretty good indicator of overall bodily health.
Naturally, there is much to be said about maintaining a healthy lifestyle as we progress through our latter years. But by being aware of the body/mouth connection, we stand a greater chance of looking after our overall health, which, in turn, will have a knock-on effect on our dental health as we grow older.
If you are in your latter years and concerned about maintaining good dental care, we’re here to help. At Foxbury Dental, our highly skilled team provide a comprehensive range of treatments and services, including dental care for seniors. We’ll give you pointers on keeping your mouth healthy and will treat any pre-existing conditions to get you back to good oral health. Book an appointment online or call 01858 455 100 to find out more.