Aging & Dental Health

Couple.Today, Americans are not only living longer — we're also retaining our natural teeth longer than ever before. But this rosy picture isn't free of thorns: Older adults tend to require increasingly complex dental treatments; are often more prone to contracting certain diseases; and sometimes find it challenging to keep up with daily oral health practices.

Yet maintaining good oral hygiene is critically important as we age. When problems occur in the mouth, they can cause difficulty chewing, swallowing, speaking and smiling — basic functions which can affect both physical and social well-being. It's possible that medications prescribed for other diseases can adversely affect a person's oral health; it's also possible that a decline in oral health can worsen existing maladies (such as diabetes), or even cause systemic (whole-body) inflammation. What other special dental issues do older people face — and what can be done about them?

Dental Concerns for Older Adults

If you think cavities are just for kids — think again! A recent study found that nearly one-third of people over 65 had untreated dental caries (cavities). In older people, these are found not only in the crown (chewing surface) of the tooth, but also in the root, which may become exposed due to gum recession. Regular dental checkups are the best way to find and treat dental caries; left untreated, they can cause pain, require more complex procedures, and eventually lead to lost teeth.

Gum disease is another major oral health issue faced by older people — and it's presently the leading cause of tooth loss in adults. The disease is caused by plaque bacteria, which thrive on the sticky biofilm that clings to the surface of teeth when they aren't properly cleaned. Poor-fitting dentures can make the problem worse, as can the presence of certain diseases (such as diabetes or cancer).

Sometimes, decreased mobility (due to arthritis or similar conditions) makes routine brushing and flossing more difficult. Special brushes with larger grips and floss holders can help make daily cleaning easier; additionally, therapeutic mouthrinses may be prescribed. In-office treatments can also be effective in bringing gum disease under control.

Blythe Danner Oral Cancer Video.

Oral cancer is a concern at any age, but it's 7 times more likely to show up in a person over 65 — and it causes more deaths in older Americans than skin cancer does. Early detection offers the best chance at controlling the disease, and improves survival rates significantly. A thorough screening for oral cancer should be a part of every older person's routine dental checkup.

Dry mouth (xerostomia) isn't just an annoyance — it can be harmful to your oral health. Aside from its lubricating qualities, saliva contains beneficial digestive enzymes, acid neutralizers, and bacteria-fighting agents. A number of factors may cause the body to produce less saliva than normal — but in older adults, this problem is often due to side effects from prescription or over-the-counter medications. If you're experiencing chronic dryness of the mouth, it's sometimes possible to change your medication, and/or use products designed to relieve these symptoms.

Oral Hygiene For Life

It was once commonly believed that dental problems and the loss of teeth were an inevitable consequence of aging. But here's the fact: Age itself isn't a risk factor for tooth loss; properly cared for, your teeth can last a lifetime. However, it's true that the mouth does change as you age. How can you give yourself the best chance of keeping your natural teeth? You guessed it: Maintain a regular practice of good oral hygiene!

Brush twice a day with a soft-bristled toothbrush — use one with a special grip, or an electric brush, if it helps. Clean in between your teeth with floss, or another type of interdental cleaner, at least once a day. If you wear dentures, regularly clean and care for them as instructed. Eat healthy foods and drink plenty of water. And don't forget to have regular dental exams so that little problems don't turn into major headaches!

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  • "a month ago
    Travis Watson was truly the most kind, compassionate, honest, and detail-oriented dentist that I have ever been to. I have had work done by at least a half dozen or more dentists over the years, and Dr. Watson was BY FAR the most compassionate, kind, and caring when it came to my procedure and dental work needs. I couldn't possibly recommend. Dr. Watson and Pinon Hills Dental any higher. Five stars isn't enough. Dr. Watson should get 10 stars. If there was a Nobel Prize for dentistry, Dr. Watson should win it--and many times over. If you're considering a dentist in the Farmington area--or beyond (I came from Durango)--Dr. Watson should be your choice. Beyond belief, you'll actually look forward going to the dentist. I'm forever grateful for Dr. Watson's skill, compassion, and kindness--and you will be too."
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    Colby Gibson-Google Oct 2020
  • "The staff here are very friendly and accommodating. I was in a decent amount of pain so they moved my appointment up and kept me from hurting for an extra 5 days. Dr. Watson personally called me to check on me and make sure things we're ok. It means a lot that he didn't have an assistant or secretary make that call."
    Kev Sharp-GoogleNov2020
  • "Dr. Watson is absolutely incredible in every way! We have always been treated with the utmost respect, compassion and expertise. He has gone out of his way to treat our family in emergency situations. In each instant, he provided amazing and excellent care when other dentists could not. He is always positive and reassuring in all situations! His office staff, dental assistants and hygienists are incredible in every way! The atmosphere in the office is peaceful, positive and upbeat! We highly recommend Pinon Hills!!!"
    Angela McDaniels- GoogleDec2020
  • "The politeness and care of the dentist, dental hygienist and the staff wowed me today. Dr. Watson and Dr. Weber really have a vested interest in your teeth. They are very concerned to the point that I brush and floss so I won't let them down.
    You never feel belittled by anyone in the office and they only encourage you when you need to do a little better. I used to worry about going to the dentist but now I know I have people who want the best for me in the doctors office."
    Kevin Jaramillo