With the continuing improvement in dental technology and the increasing dental IQ of the North American population, people are now living longer and keeping their teeth. The days of wearing full or partial dentures are slowly becoming a thing of the past. So what are the issues we face as we keep our teeth longer? This article will deal with the common conditions seen. My next article will give some tips on how to deal with them.
- Dry Mouth or Xerostomia. This is one of the most common situation that plaque our geriatric population. As one ages, our saliva secreting glands may atrophy and dry up thus decreasing our saliva flow. Some medications can also cause dry mouth. Saliva is important for flushing out and keeping the mouth moist as well as aiding in the digestion of food. Do you ever notice how difficult it is to eat dry crackers? And how, when you drink some milk, that it makes the crackers go down a lot easier? Saliva performs the same function. Saliva also helps to flush the mouth and control breath odour. Another very important function of saliva is to help prevent cavities. The cavity rate is higher in the older population and a lack of saliva flow is part of the problem.
- Gum recession and teeth sensitivity. With the wear and tear the mouth goes through from years of eating, improper brushing and abuse, the gums may recede and the teeth may get notched. This can lead to gum recession and teeth sensitivity. It can also lead to an increased risk of root decay, especially if the person suffers from dry mouth. Gingival recession in the older population may be where the term "Long in the Tooth" comes from, as teeth tend to look longer when the gums recede.
- Increased rate of tooth decay. Increased tooth decay is more a side effect of aging teeth than a true sign of aging. Due to possible dry mouth, a change in diet and gum recession as well as a possible decrease in dexterity of proper teeth brushing and home care, older people can suffer from an increased rate of tooth decay.
- Teeth discoloration. As teeth wear down from years of use, they will discolour as the enamel thins, older fillings stain through and other extrinsic food stains accumulate.
- Increased risk of tooth fracture and filling replacement. This is self- explanatory. As one ages, older large fillings do crack, leak and wear down necessitating replacement. The risk of teeth fracture also increases as small hairline cracks that started from clenching and grinding of teeth or large fillings from an earlier age start to deepen and break off.
- Oral cancers. Constant wear and damage to the mouth over time can lead to a change in oral tissues which may be precursors to oral cancers. The risk is higher in the older population mainly due to the increased time of tissue insult over the years.
Getting old has its benefits; retirement, time with the grand children and vacations in Palm Springs over winter. But it also comes with its unique set of issues. Dental problems should not be among them. If you cannot wait until the next article, please contact your dentist to discuss your concerns. If you do not have a dentist, please CLICK here and wichDOC.com can help you find one near you!