Just because you're over 60 doesn't mean you can't get cavities. Even if you've taken excellent care of your teeth during your adult years, simply getting older puts you at higher risk for dental problems. Medication side effects, an increased incidence of mouth cancer, and untreated gum disease are factors that can contribute to dental problems as you age.
Impaired Saliva Flow
Contrary to popular belief, dry mouth symptoms aren't a normal part of aging. However, not having enough saliva in your mouth is a common side effect of many medications you may need to take as you get older. Medications doctors prescribe to treat high blood pressure, high cholesterol, arthritis pain, osteoporosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), Parkinson's disease, and Alzheimer's disease can cause a dry feeling in your mouth. To make matters worse, chronic dry mouth makes you more susceptible to cavities and mouth infections.
When dry mouth caused by medication is severe, your doctor may reduce the dosage or switch you to another medicine. If a change in medication isn't possible, talk to your dentist about applying a topical fluoride varnish to your teeth to protect them against cavities. Dentists in most areas now use fluoride varnish as a preventive measure in adults.
Self-help treatments include drinking plenty of water to keep your mouth moist and chewing sugarless gum to stimulate the flow of saliva. Not only does saliva keep food from sticking to your teeth and gums, it produces calcium and phosphorus, both of which contribute to the remineralization of tooth enamel. It's also a good idea to restrict your consumption of caffeinated coffee and tea, acidic fruit juices, carbonated soft drinks, and alcohol -- beverages that irritate or worsen dry mouth.
Oral Cancer Diagnosis
According to the American Cancer Society, oral cancers affect 39,500 individuals each year. Generally, age is considered a risk factor for developing oral cancer, as most people are around 62 years old at the time they are diagnosed with oral cavity and oral pharyngeal cancers. For this reason, it's important to continue to schedule regular dental exams at places like Adobe Dentistry.
While oral cancers usually cause no pain symptoms in the first stages, your dentist can spot early signs, such as changes on your tongue, lips, and floor or lining of your mouth, during a routine dental checkup. Early detection improves the outcome of treatment.
Regardless when oral cancer is discovered, the disease or its treatment can cause oral and dental complications. For example, chemotherapy often causes mouth infections and tooth decay. Radiation therapy can damage oral tissue and the salivary glands.
Progression of Untreated Gum Disease
Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that the severity of gum disease increases with age, many older adults don't realize they have a problem until the disease advances. Gum disease usually isn't painful in its early stages. Therefore, in many cases, the condition goes untreated until it damages the gums, bone, and ligaments supporting the teeth.
Chronic health conditions, such as diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and cardiovascular disease, which weaken your immune system, increase your risk of getting gum disease. However, you may not know you have gum disease until you notice symptoms such as loose teeth, receding gums, or pain when chewing.
Being alert to what can cause dental problems as you get older will help you keep your teeth and mouth healthier.