Your natural teeth can last for your lifetime if you take proper care of them. But just as your body changes with age, so does your mouth, which is why it’s important to always pay attention to signs of oral health problems and adjust your oral hygiene routine when necessary.
Here are Five Ways your Mouth Changes with Age and what those Changes Mean for your Oral Health:
1. Stained and Brittle Teeth
A lifetime of eating and wear and tear can result in teeth naturally staining and becoming more brittle. Although enamel – the outermost layer of your teeth – is the strongest substance in the body, it does wear down over time and never grows back. Significant tooth erosion can lead to cracks, fractures and even exposure of the root, all of which increase your risk for cavities and tooth removal.
The best way to limit tooth erosion and protect your enamel is to keep bacteria and acids from sitting on your teeth for long periods of time. Avoid sugary and acidic foods and drinks, and be sure to brush and floss every day. Eat some cheese or milk after an especially acidic meal to balance your mouth’s pH levels and drink water frequently throughout the day to rinse away clingy bacteria.
Regular brushing and flossing also help to reduce staining, but if you are starting to feel self-conscious about having dingy teeth, you might want to consider a tooth whitening treatment. Whitening treatments can be conducted at home or at the dentist’s office, depending on the level of whitening you desire. Talk to your dentist about which kind of treatment is best for you.
2. Receding Gums
One in every four adults aged 65 and older has gum (periodontal) disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Periodontal disease is the most common cause of tooth loss among adults and seniors, because receding gums expose the softer tooth root surfaces to cavity-causing bacteria. Gum health is extremely important, especially among older adults, as many studies are finding links between periodontal disease and larger health problems, including heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and osteoporosis.
Flossing is your best defense against gum disease – do it at least once a day and concentrate on cleaning just below the gum line. If you wear dentures, it is important to pay attention to how they fit. Poorly fitting dentures can cause many problems, including food particles getting stuck in between the dentures and gums, which will affect the health of your gums.
3. Less Sensitivity
As we age, the nerves in our mouths get smaller, causing our teeth to lose sensitivity. Although this may sound like a good thing, it can actually mean you are less aware of problems in your mouth and increase your risk for losing teeth to more severe oral health problems later on.
According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, tooth decay is the most prevalent chronic disease in adults and seniors. It is increasingly important, therefore, to keep up with your daily oral hygiene and visit your dentist at least once a year to make sure there are no problems erupting in your mouth that you just haven’t felt yet.
4. Mouth Lesions and Sores
Much like skin, the soft tissues on the inside of your mouth get thinner and lose elasticity over time. This means lesions and sores are more likely to develop as you age. While most sores in your mouth are just annoying or painful, pay attention to suspicious changes and contact your dentist if you notice any irregularities. Lesions and sores can be a sign of oral cancer, and oral cancer risk increases with age – particularly for those over 55 who smoke and are heavy drinkers, according to the CDC.
Reduce your risk for oral cancer by quitting tobacco products, reducing or stopping consumption of alcohol, limiting exposure to the sun and using SPF lip balms. Oral cancer can be painless in its initial stages, so it is important to receive regular cancer screenings when you visit your dentist.
5. Dry Mouth
Dry mouth is a common issue for people as they age because they are taking more medications to treat other health conditions. There are over 400 commonly used medications that can cause dry mouth, according to the CDC.
Although it may not sound serious, dry mouth can lead to significant oral health issues. Without saliva and its antimicrobial components, the mouth becomes a hotbed for bacteria and the risk for cavities and other problems increases. It is important to keep your dentist informed of all medications you are taking, and if you suffer from severe dry mouth, speak with your doctor about trying a different prescription. It is good practice to sip on water throughout the day to keep your mouth moist and healthy, and you can also chew sugar-free gum or suck on sugar-free candies to increase your saliva production.