As the average lifespan of our nation’s population is increasing, so too is the need for maintaining proper oral health care. The goal, of course, is to retain our teeth for all of these extended years. Though aging can have some negative effects on our teeth, I am encouraged to report that many of my elderly clientele are even more diligent and knowledgeable in the area of oral hygiene than some of their younger cohorts. While dentures are still available, their prevalence in the dental office is significantly reduced from years in the past.
It is important for the aging population to pay attention to certain scenarios that may present in the oral environment with age. The saying, “He’s a bit long in the tooth,” originates from the fact that gum recession over time tends to expose more and more of the root surfaces of one’s teeth. Often associated with this root exposure is increased sensitivity to cold and hot liquids and air brought in through the mouth. A simple solution to this problem is to have your dentist bond a desensitizing agent to the tooth or to place a filling on the exposed surface. These treatments are incredibly effective at eliminating tooth sensitivity both painlessly and immediately. Patients are thus free to enjoy ice cream, coffee and cold beverages that same day.
Exposed roots are also more predisposed to cavities, or “root caries” as we call them. This is because the tooth structure below the gum line consists of a softer mineral than the more resistant enamel on the outer portion of a tooth. Routine cleanings and check-ups, sometimes with even greater regularity than the typical six-month recall, can serve to head off at the pass any cavities that may otherwise run amuck.
Decreased salivary flow can result with age as well. Our saliva contains a buffer against the acids that result when foods breakdown in our mouths. The absence of this saliva leaves our teeth more susceptible to tooth decay. Certain medications can interfere with normal salivary production as well. A dentist may elect to counteract this decreased salivary flow with other medications. The best defense against the harmful effects of low salivary flow is the same as that for most age-related dental challenges: immaculate oral hygiene and regular visits to the dentist!