Facts of Life: How to care for your teeth as you age

Owing to advances in medicine and an increase in prolonged life expectancy, the number of older adults will continue to increase worldwide. It is essential that old older adults practice and maintain good oral hygiene due to the high correlation between oral health and general health - so that they may keep smiling well into retirement.

As you age, changes in salivary flow and content may lead to gingivitis (red, swollen gums with bleeding), cavities, and even periodontitis (gum infection with bone loss).  It is important to see your dentist at least twice a year for regular cleanings and checkups. If regular oral care is too difficult due to arthritis, your dentist can provide alternatives to aid in brushing and flossing. 

Oral cancer is one of the most common cancers, with roughly 35,000 new cases annually in the US. Oral cancer most often occur in people 40 years and older.

Oral cancer can form in any part of the mouth or throat. If not diagnosed and treated in its early stages, oral cancer can spread, leading to chronic pain, loss of function, irreparable facial and oral disfigurement following surgery, and even death. Oral cancer has one of the lowest 5-year survival rates of all cancers; this is primarily due to a late diagnosis.

See a dentist immediately if you notice any of the following: red or white patches on your gums or tongue, a sore that fails to heal within 2 weeks, bleeding in your mouth, loose teeth, problems or pain swallowing, or a lump in your neck.

As you age, you may develop dry mouth. Dry mouth happens when salivary glands fail to work due to disease, certain medications, or cancer treatment. The condition can make it hard to eat, swallow, taste, and speak. Drinking lots of water and avoiding sweets, tobacco, alcohol, and caffeine are some ways to fight dry mouth. Dry mouth and poor oral hygiene can lead to increase in cavities and tooth loss. Talk to your dentist if you feel your mouth is dry about ways to prevent cavities and relief.