Saturday, October 26, 2013

Dental Health for Seniors

What do I Need to Know to Maintain Good Oral Health in My Senior Years?
With proper care and a good general health, your teeth can last a lifetime.  Of course, regular dental check ups will help you to spot issues quickly so that they can be dealt with before they become major problems.

Individuals of any age can keep teeth and gums in top condition, by twice a day brushing.  Studies indicate that using an electric toothbrush, floss, and mouthwash can all add to your success in avoiding cavities and gum disease.

Are There Dental and other Oral Health Issues I Should Know About as a Senior?
Wearing dentures, taking medications and general health conditions are some of the issues many seniors face. Luckily, your dentist and physician can help you meet most of these challenges quite successfully.
  • Cavities and/or decay can strike the root surfaces of the teeth of older adults more frequently.
  • You are likely to find yourself becoming more senstive to hot or cold foods or drinks, cold air, or to some sweet or sour foods or beverages.  This is due in part to your gums receding over time, thereby exposing areas of the tooth that are not protected by enamel.  You might want to  try an anti-sensitivity toothpaste under these circumstances.  Sensitivity can also be caused by cavities, broken teeth or cracked crowns.
  • Dry mouth, also called xerostomia, is a condition that usually results from decreased production of saliva. At times, xerostomia can make it difficult to speak and may lead to malnutrition. Extreme dry mouth and salivary gland dysfunction can produce significant and permanent mouth and throat disorders and can impair a person's quality of life.
    Disorders of saliva production affect elderly people and those who are taking prescription and nonprescription medications most frequently.
  • Dry mouth can damage your teeth if not treated.  To treat dry mouth, begin a low-sugar diet and use fluoride treatments plus antimicrobial rinses.  Any mouthwash used should not contain alcohol, such as Biotene.  They will cause further mouth dryness. Drink more water throughout the day, especially while eating. Chewing gum can help stimulate salivary flow, but avoid those that have sugar in them. Other remedies including over the counter products may be recommended by your dentist, along with precautions that may apply specifically to your case.
  • Heart disease, diabetes or cancer can affect your oral health. Your doctor or dentist can help you to take necessary steps to limit damage.
  • Gum disease can result in costly and painful treatments.   Factors that potentially increase the severity of gum disease:
    • Bad diet
    • Stress and smoking
    • As noted above, diabetes, heart disease and cancer may increase risk.
    • Poor oral hygiene (not brushing often enough or correctly. Not flossing)
    • Certain medications may increase risks of contracting gum disease
  • Dentures require special care. Your dentist's instructions should be followed carefully.  Don't hesitate to go see your dentist if you have pain, discomfort, or slippage.
Gum disease is reversible if diagnosed in the early stages.  Regular dental checkups often lead to detection and treatment of gum disease. You can prevent gum disease by practicing proper oral hygiene, and getting regular check ups.
  • You may need a crown or a bridge.  Crowns cover or a damaged tooth to make it stronger, improve its appearance, and/or to help with alignment. Bridges replace one or more missing teeth by spanning the space where the teeth used to be.  The bridge is anchored to the good teeth on either side of the space.  Learn how to clean under the bridge as food can get trapped between the false tooth in the bridge and the gum.
  • Darkened teeth are caused, at least partially, by changes in dentin -- the bone-like tissue that underlies the tooth enamel.  But also adding to darkening can be a lifetime of consuming stain-causing foods and beverages.
  • Diminished sense of taste may be the result of diseases or medications.  Even dentures can contribute to loss of taste.
  • Exposure of the tooth root to decay-causing acids can result in root decay.  This is one potential result from gum disease or even the natural receding of the gums.
  •  Ill-fitting dentures, poor dental hygiene, or a buildup of the fungus Candida albicans can cause an inflammation of the tissue underlying a denture.
  • Diseases or drugs that affect the immune system can trigger thrush, which is the overgrowth of the fungus Candida albicans in the mouth.
Because of the importance and growing use of implants, we will devote a separate post to the subject.  Look for that post within a few days.  If reading this post after November 29, the implant post should be available to read.

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