Still Smiling at 80, But is Your Smile Healthy?

Dental caries, the disease that causes cavities, is the most widespread childhood disease. That’s probably why many people think about children when they hear the word “cavity.” But even in our golden years cavities can occur, and today’s population keeps their natural teeth longer than any previous generation. Improved access to dental care, awareness about healthcare and dental hygiene, and fluoridated drinking water are prime contributors to keeping our natural teeth throughout life.

While retaining natural teeth is a great achievement, elderly people must continue to practice good oral healthcare to ward off tooth decay and gum disease. The task gets harder as we age.

Brushing, flossing, and attending checkups and cleanings are essential to good oral health. However, in the eighth decade of life, changes in diet, saliva production, and failing dental restorations increase the potential for developing cavities. Furthermore, arthritis and other physical ailments can impair the ability to properly brush and floss.

Dietary Changes: Many seniors struggle to eat a healthy diet. Studies show, on average, people over 65 years of age have lost 13 teeth. Living alone can negatively affect the consistency of eating meals; some seniors cannot drive to shop for food or have physical ailments that impair the ability to cook. Health problems, like diabetes, may necessitate dietary alterations as you age, as well. For good oral and overall health, seniors must eat a healthy diet, rich in vitamins and minerals. One particular problem is with fruit. We are taught that eating fruit is healthy, and indeed it is! However, eating only fruit can cause a deficiency of magnesium and calcium. Fruit is high in phosphorous, as well. An imbalance of phosphorous, calcium, and magnesium can add to the risk for bone disease. Acids in citrus can erode tooth enamel, as well. One study showed, seniors who consumed an all-fruit diet experienced teeth loosening, breaking, falling out, and gum recession.

Salivary Production Decline: With age comes deterioration of many parts of our body, and our mouths are no exception. Gums recede, tooth enamel thins, and salivary glands atrophy. Saliva is very, very important to keeping our mouths healthy. It neutralizes acids and cleans the mouth continually, washing away food particles and bacteria. Dry mouth, or xerostema, is a common complaint for seniors, and it is also a primary factor in gum disease – the leading cause of tooth loss for American adults.

Failing Dental Restorations: Our mouths endure about 600 different types of bacteria each day, so it makes sense that tooth enamel is the second hardest naturally occurring substance on earth. Still, our teeth are susceptible to decay and damage. Over the years, most people need dental fillings, crowns, and bridges to repair dental damage. These manmade restorations are durable, but they will wear out. For instance, if a filling changes shape over the years, bacteria can invade beneath the filling. Tooth decay forms, and the tooth is damaged more extensively. Detected before the tooth’s root is affected, the decay and existing filling may be replaced with a dental crown. Dental checkups every six months will allow your dentist to find and repair failing dental work before more significant damage occurs.

If you’ve lost teeth or suffer from gum disease, contact Dr. Seal for an appointment. Call our Dallas, Texas, dental practice today at (214) 361-0883 for more information on TMD treatment or to schedule a dental consultation.


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