Seniors and Oral Health
Among adults ages 75 and up, about one in four has lost all natural teeth, largely because of gum disease and tooth decay. The two most common oral health problems are tooth decay (cavities) and gum disease. “Gum disease is more common when you’re older,” Fischer explains. “But cavities can happen at any age, as long as you have natural teeth.” Both are largely preventable with proper care.
Cavities develop as plaque builds up on your teeth and under chipped fillings, producing acids that can eventually eat away at the tooth’s hard outer surface.
Gum disease is an infection of the gums and surrounding tissues that hold your teeth in place. Gum problems arise as plaque builds up along and under your gum line. In severe cases, the bone and tissue that hold teeth in place can break down, and teeth may eventually become loose and must be removed.
Reduce your risk of developing tooth decay and gum disease by brushing daily with fluoride toothpaste and flossing. Also visit the dentist regularly for a cleaning and checkup.
Another common problem for older adults is dry mouth. Dry mouth occurs when you don’t have enough saliva, or spit, to keep your mouth wet. “Saliva is very important,” Fischer says. “The protective factors in saliva prevent cavities, gum disease, and fungal infections.”
Dry mouth can be caused by medications, alcohol or tobacco and medical conditions such as poorly controlled diabetes. Dry mouth is usually treatable, so talk with your doctor or dentist if you’re having problems.