Watch your mouth! That’s the message of this year’s Dental Health Week, which runs from August 6-12.
Here the Dr Peter Alldritt, chair of the Australian Dental Health’s Oral Health Committee shares his healthy teeth tips for seniors.
Have regular check-ups
Seniors usually have experienced a heavy burden of dental disease throughout their lifetime such as tooth decay, gum diseases such as gingivitis and periodontal disease, and tooth wear from grinding teeth, acid erosion and abrasion.
As a result, they often have a very heavily restored dentition – many fillings, crowns, perhaps a few root canal treatments and maybe even some missing teeth. Their teeth can be brittle and more vulnerable to fractures.
For this reason, seniors need to keep up their regular dental check-ups. That way, problems can be prevented or repaired before they become major.
Look after your gums
As we age, most people suffer gum recession, where the gum shrinks away from the tooth margin and the teeth appear longer. This can make teeth more sensitive and also vulnerable to tooth decay on the root surfaces.
Periodontal disease (gum disease) is also more prevalent as we age – in this condition, the bone is also lost from around the teeth causing them to become loose and possibly require extraction. It is the most common cause of tooth loss in adults. Your dentist watches your whole mouth – not just your teeth, but your gums too!
Avoid dry mouth
Seniors often take a few medications, and these can cause xerostomia or dry mouth. This reduces the amount of saliva in the mouth, making it difficult to eat, speak, swallow. It also places the teeth at risk of severe tooth decay because saliva normally protects the teeth and neutralizes acidity.
Tell your dentist which medications you are taking. They can offer tips to help with the symptoms of dry mouth, including water intake and products which can help to moisten the mouth when it is dry.
Dentures need check-ups too
Often seniors who are edentulous (have no natural teeth and wear full dentures) assume they don’t have to go to the dentist, at least until they need a new set of dentures a few years down the track.
This is not true. Even people with no natural teeth need to watch their mouth – it’s not just tooth decay and gum disease but also oral cancer that can be a problem in all people.
People with full dentures need to visit the dentist annually too – in order to check the fit of the dentures, any ulcers or irritation and any signs of oral cancer. An ulcer which doesn’t heal quickly can be the first sign of oral cancer but many people don’t know they have a problem until it is advanced.
The risk factors for oral cancer include smoking, alcohol consumption, ageing and exposure to Human Papilloma Virus.
Dental Health Week runs from August 6-12. Click HERE for more details.