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The Solutions to Common Oral Health Challenges Older People Face

Ageing presents us with a few challenges when it comes to maintaining a healthy smile. This is mostly due to the fact that aging increases one’s susceptibility to oral health problems.

However, thanks to advancements in dentistry, dental health among seniors have improved in the last few years. It is now possible to not only address but prevent the common dental problems that elderly people face. 

Below, we shall be taking a look at some of the common oral health challenges older people face and the solutions to them.

Darkened Teeth

As you get older, the dentin (bone-like tissue) that lies beneath your tooth enamel changes and becomes discoloured. This is usually a result of the different teeth-staining foods and beverages that you have consumed over the years. Over time wear and tear can also cause your teeth’s outer enamel layer to diminish, thus, allowing the yellow dentin to become visible.

Solution- Thankfully, discoloured or darkened teeth can be easily treated with cosmetic dentistry treatments like professional teeth whitening, composite bonding and porcelain veneers. To get the best out of any of these treatments, you will need to practice good oral hygiene and modify your habits (brushing after consuming teeth-staining foods and drinks, avoiding cigarettes and other tobacco products).

Dry Mouth

Dry mouth isn’t necessarily caused by ageing; rather, it is a side-effect of certain medications used to treat overall health problems in elderly patients. Prescription medications used to treat issues like pain, depression, and Alzheimer’s disease can cause dry mouth. It is important that you talk to your dentist about addressing dry mouth immediately, as it can increase your risk of developing cavities. This is because healthy saliva production (which contains anti-bacterial properties) is necessary to help your mouth fight plaque and bacteria. 

Solution- Some of the ways you can relieve dry mouth include; drinking room-temperature beverages and water (avoid excessive amounts of water at extreme temperatures), avoiding carbonated drinks, drinking water during meals, reducing your coffee intake, avoiding alcohol (including mouthwash that contains alcohol), avoiding tobacco products and consuming sugarless candy or gum (xylitol gum is a good choice). You can also talk to your doctor about changing your medications if they are causing dry mouth.

Receding Gums

As you age, your gums will inevitably lose elasticity and begin to recede. While receding gums may not be a leading cause of tooth loss, exposure to the tooth root can increase the risk of cavities which then leads to periodontitis and tooth loss. Receding gums also come with heightened teeth sensitivity in older patients, and this can make eating and drinking difficult.

Solution– Depending on the underlying cause (which is ageing in this case), the treatment for receding gums may or may not require surgery. For mild gum recession, scaling and root planing are often recommended by dentists. However, for severe gum recession, gum graft surgery might be recommended. Apart from surgery, regular trips to the dentist, trying a new toothpaste or changing out your toothbrushes regularly can also help with treating gum recession.

Gum Disease

Gum disease is, unfortunately, another common oral health problem that older people face. Also, because gum disease slowly develops over time, older people are more likely to experience it than younger people. Gum disease is usually caused by bacteria and plaque buildup resulting from poor oral hygiene (improper brushing and flossing). 

The condition leads to swelling and inflammation of the gums, pain and bleeding when brushing your teeth. If left untreated, gum disease can worsen (periodontal pockets form between the tooth root and gums and encourage the growth of harmful bacteria) and lead to the first stage of periodontitis.

Solution– Improved oral hygiene can help treat the infection and restore healthy teeth and gums. Procedures like scaling and root planing can also be carried out by your dentist to get rid of bacteria and tartar.

Tooth Loss

This is another issue that is quite common among seniors. A major contributor to tooth loss is periodontitis which results from poor oral hygiene. Bad habits like smoking, teeth grinding and hard brushing can also induce tooth loss. 

Solution– Tooth loss doesn’t have to be permanent. There are several teeth replacement options available and some of the top ones are; dental bridges, dentures and dental implants.

Periodontitis

This is the number one cause of teeth loss, and it is caused by tartar and bacteria build up in the mouth. Periodontitis can be painless and remain undetected for several years before it is diagnosed. Unfortunately, most people only get the diagnosis when it becomes problematic and is in its later stages. 

Solution– Periodontitis is actually very preventable if you practice good oral hygiene. However, when it does occur, there are different treatment options available (both surgical and non-surgical). For mild periodontitis, scaling and root planing and an antibiotic prescription can be effective. For more advanced periodontitis, surgical treatments like; soft tissue grafts, flap surgery (pocket reduction surgery), bone grafting, guided tissue regeneration and tissue-stimulating proteins may be needed.

Conclusion

There is no reason why you can’t still enjoy a healthy smile, even as you age. Granted, getting older makes you more susceptible to certain oral health issues, but with good dental hygiene and regular check-ups with your dentist, these issues can be prevented.

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