As our life expectancy continues to increase and dental care continues to improve, we can now expect to keep our teeth for a lifetime. However, along with this trend, the senior population is faced with its own specific dental problems.
Decades ago, it was expected that as we reached old age, we could expect to lose most, if not all, of our teeth; this notion is no longer true.
However, as we reach middle and old age, our saliva flow diminishes both physiologically and from the numerous medications which we are taking. This leads to an uncomfortable condition known as Xerostomia or Dry Mouth. Saliva is needed as both a lubricant and a cleansing fluid, this lack of saliva can lead to sores developing in the mouth and an increase in the rate of decay. Also, as the mouth is not properly cleansed, the dry mouth condition can also lead to inflamed gums and periodontal disease.
As the aging process progresses, the chemistry of the mouth changes and different types of bacteria are present than earlier in life. These types of bacteria have been shown to cause root cavities.
So what can be done to prevent and treat these conditions? First, you should speak to both your physician and dentist to determine what medications are being used which might contribute to dental disease. If it is safe to change a medication, this should be considered. There are now various saliva substitutes which are readily available and can be found at your local pharmacy, also sugarless gum and gum containing Xylitol, a sugar which does not contribute to cavities, can be used. This will stimulate saliva flow.
Your dentist can also prescribe a toothpaste which has a higher fluoride content than over-the- counter toothpastes and he or she can also apply fluoride varnishes and topical fluoride treatments which will lower the incidence of cavities.
As for homecare, the usual brushing and flossing remains very important. Another area which needs to be addressed is proper diet and nutrition. A balanced diet will prevent lower resistance which can also lead to dental disease.
With proper homecare and a program of preventative dentistry, we can expect to keep our teeth for a lifetime!
Dr. Richard Hochenberg
practices dentistry in Tarrytown, NY