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Oral care can have a direct effect on our overall health – and our overall health can impact our mouth’s health in the same way. As we age, those effects can be influenced by a number of other factors, including heart disease and diabetes. Even the medications we take can cause oral side effects, like dry mouth. But with proper care, you can grow older, stay healthy and keep smiling.
Dry mouth (xerostomia) is a dryness of the mouth caused by lack of normal salivation. Saliva lubricates and protects the tissue inside the mouth, aids in cleaning the mouth and regulates acidity (pH). If a decrease in saliva production occurs, the mouth may feel uncomfortable and there may be an altered sense of taste and difficulty chewing. Importantly, dry mouth also increases the susceptibility of the teeth to cavities.
For severe cases of dry mouth, your doctor may prescribe a medication that stimulates saliva production. Your dentist may also recommend prescription-strength fluoride toothpaste to help prevent root decay.
Root surface cavities can become more common in the senior population because of exposure of root surfaces by gingival recession and inadequate removal of bacteria and food between teeth. In addition, infrequent dental examinations and cleanings, salivary gland dysfunction, frequent snacking and removable partial dentures can all lead to an increase in cavities.
Seniors may experience less tooth sensitivity overall, so they may not realize they have a cavity. Elderly patients with impaired dexterity may benefit from power toothbrushes or manual toothbrushes with larger handles and from floss holders or other devices to clean between the teeth. Additionally, your dentist may recommend prescription-strength fluoride toothpaste to help prevent root decay.
Gum disease (periodontal disease) is an infection of the supporting structures of the teeth. When not treated, gum disease can result in the loss of teeth. The prevalence of periodontal disease increases with age, from 6% among persons 25-34 years of age to 41% among those 65 years and older. This increase is not necessarily due to seniors being more susceptible to gum disease, but rather because they are more prone to having bone loss and gingival recession, which are more evident as we age. Preventing gum disease is particularly important because recent studies have shown a possible association between these diseases and both diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Regardless of your age, it is a great idea to seek professional dental care on a regular basis.
© Philips Oral Healthcare, Inc. 2012. All rights reserved.