3 Dental Problems That Seniors Need to Watch out For
Better dental technology, greater access to dental care and more information about dental hygiene have made tooth loss during your golden years less likely than it used to be. While losing your teeth as you get older may have once been almost inevitable, these days you can expect to keep your teeth for life if you care for them correctly.
However, there are dental problems that seniors need to be especially aware of. Aging affects your whole body, including your mouth, and you may be at risk of certain dental conditions now that you weren’t at risk for 20 years ago. This post lists three of the most serious dental problems that seniors experience.
You may not know the word “xerostomia,” but you probably know the sensation. Xerostomia is the medical term for dry mouth, something that almost everyone experiences at some point in time.
While temporary dry mouth is an almost universal experience, seniors often experience chronic dry mouth. While dry mouth may not sound serious at first, it’s important to understand that saliva plays an important role in oral hygiene and health. It helps clear away bacteria that would otherwise sit on your teeth causing decay.
There are many things that can cause dry mouth, including medications. Some xerostomia-causing medications, like antihistamines and antibiotics, are taken by many adults on an occasional or temporary basis, however, medications that are taken on an ongoing basis, for example, arthritis medications or medication that helps treat Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, can cause chronic dry mouth.
Luckily, the dry mouth doesn’t have to be permanent. If it’s caused by medication, your doctor may be able to adjust your medication to avoid that side effect. If there’s another cause, there are treatment options that you, your dentist and your doctor can try to combat the condition.
If you’re experiencing dry mouth, don’t ignore it or brush it off as unimportant. Talk to your dentist so that you can find ways to address your dry mouth before it causes tooth problems.
- Periodontal Disease
Periodontal disease, or gum disease, can affect anyone. However, seniors need to be especially vigilant about protecting their gums. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over 70 percent of adults over the age of 65 have a form of periodontal disease.
Gum disease can be caused by poor dental hygiene, however, habits like smoking or using other tobacco products and eating an unhealthy diet could also cause periodontal disease. Of course, these factors have a cumulative effect — the longer you’ve been smoking or eating junk food, the more at risk you are.
Gum disease can also be caused by certain diseases that make your gums more vulnerable, and by bridges, dentures or other dental appliances that don’t fit properly and irritate your gums, causing infection.
Not only is gum disease a serious oral health condition, it’s linked to other serious health conditions, like diabetes and heart disease. This means that if your gums are in poor condition, you’re at increased risk for a heart attack, stroke or another severe medical event.
Frequent brushing and flossing and regular dental checkups are the keys to preventing gum disease. If you do develop gum disease, or if you suspect that you might have gum disease, it’s important to seek treatment immediately. Early treatment can prevent tooth loss and head off serious medical consequences.
- Oral Cancer
Like gum disease, there are several risk factors that can contribute to oral cancer, and anyone can be affected by oral cancer at any age, but again, seniors are particularly vulnerable to this disease. Two-thirds of oral cancer patients are older than 55. The average age at which patients are diagnosed with oral cancer is 62.
You can reduce your risk of oral cancer by cutting out some risk factors, like tobacco and alcohol use. However, aging is still a risk factor on its own, and there are other risk factors that you may not be able to control, like genetics.
One thing that is important to understand about oral cancer is that it’s very treatable when it’s caught early, but the chances for survival go down and the risk of complications increases the longer it takes to get a diagnosis. Moreover, because the early symptoms of oral cancer are often mild and easily mistaken for other conditions, many people don’t realize they may be at risk until the cancer has started spreading.
Seniors should get regular oral cancer screenings from their dentist in order to ensure an early diagnosis if you do develop oral cancer. Oral cancer screenings are simple and non-invasive, and they can be performed during regular dental checkups. Talk to your dentist about your risk factors for oral cancer and find out how often you should be having oral cancer screenings.
Regular dental visits are an essential part of health care for seniors. The experts at Apollo Dental can help you with your dental care, contact their team to schedule regular checkups with your family dentist.