Thanks to improved access to oral health care and information about dental hygiene, Australians are consistently increasing the chances of keeping more of their teeth as they age. Despite this improvement, the teeth that we keep as we get older do have a higher chance of being lost, due to the increasing chances of developing oral health issues.
Find out which dental problems commonly affect older people, the lifestyle choices that will impact on your oral health, and how to best manage them in order to keep your teeth as time passes!
Lifestyle choices that affect your teeth:
- Poor oral hygiene routine
Most common dental problems for older people:
- Tooth decay
- Weak teeth
- Tooth loss
- Gum disease
- Tooth infections
- Aesthetic concerns
- Dry mouth
Lifestyle choices that affect your teeth
There are certain activities and habits that can negatively affect your oral health, but with some lifestyle changes you can get the condition of your teeth back on track.
1. Poor oral hygiene routine
If you know you lack consistency with your dental hygiene routine, it’s never too late to start better habits! This involves:
- Brushing your teeth twice daily
- Flossing daily
- Visiting your dentist every 6 months for a dental check-up and clean
Enjoying a few drinks here and there is okay in moderation, but excessive alcohol consumption can impact on your oral health in several ways. It can increase your chances of developing dry mouth syndrome (xerostomia), as well as oral cancer.
Drinks high in acidity and sugar also cause erosion to the enamel on your teeth, leading to tooth decay that make your teeth more sensitive, discoloured and susceptible to damage. When drinking, choose options such as vodka and soda to reduce sugar consumption, and avoid heavily pigmented drinks like red wine to prevent teeth staining.
The number of smokers in Australia has been significantly reduced over the past few years due to the majority of the population now considering the health issues associated with tobacco use. Smoking can lead to oral diseases such as xerostomia and oral cancer, as well as gum disease, which is the main cause of tooth loss for the older population. There are also aesthetic issues associated with smoking, such as the stains caused by nicotine and tar.
Stress is a normal part of life from time to time, but if it’s constant and persistent, it can actually take a toll on your oral health. Stress can cause issues such as teeth grinding or bruxism, which can break or chip your teeth and cause TMJ disorder where there is pain and other issues with the jaw joints. Stress also increases the risk of developing obstructive sleep apnoea.
To combat stress, try to avoid triggering situations, and visit a professional to talk about what may be causing you stress and learn how to best manage it.
Most common dental problems for older people
Addressing these lifestyle factors will help you keep your teeth in their best condition, but as we age we can still become increasingly at risk for a number of oral health conditions. Often, this is as a result of teeth wearing down over our lifetime, or developing another condition that can affect our oral health.
1. Tooth decay
Tooth decay is extremely common, and occurs due to bacteria that accumulates on the surface of the teeth which become plaque. It then digests the sugars that you consume and produces acids which cause enamel erosion.
The erosion can create cavities in the teeth if not treated or if sugar consumption is too high, which may need to be fixed with fillings by your dentist. If the tooth can’t be saved with a filling, it may instead have to be removed and replaced with a dental implant or another artificial tooth restoration.
2. Weak teeth
Over your lifetime, wear and tear as you chew and eat can cause them to become weak and more likely to be damaged by injuries or tooth decay, potentially chipping or cracking. If it feels sensitive or painful when eating or your dentist believes it to be at risk of damage, they may recommend dental crowns to improve its strength.
3. Tooth loss
With age comes the greater risk of tooth loss, whether it be as a result of extractions, infection, gum disease or an accident/dental emergency. It’s important to replace these teeth with an artificial dental solution so you can continue to eat and speak as normal, and to provide structure to the mouth and jaw which will prevent your face ageing rapidly.
Tooth replacement options include:
- Dentures: Removable and can replace as many teeth necessary, the cheapest option but least convenient.
- Dental bridge: Fixed, supported by the surrounding teeth, but doesn’t integrate with the jaw like dental implants.
- Dental implants: Fixed and placed surgically, support bone growth, can be used as a foundation for dentures or a bridge. Most expensive but easily the longest lasting.
4. Gum disease
Gum disease is the most prevalent cause of tooth loss in the ageing Australian population, and occurs as a result of bacteria which causes gums to become inflamed. It is more common as we age due to the increase in risk factors. Gingivitis is the early stage of gum disease, with symptoms such as bleeding, swollen or irritated gums, which can be treated by your dentist in conjunction with preventative dentistry at home.
More severe gum disease is called periodontitis, and can cause tooth loss due to damaging the gums and tissues that hold the teeth in place if left untreated.
5. Tooth infections
As you age, your gums may recede and expose the tooth roots, which can be affected by decay as they are not protected by enamel. If the soft dental pulp inside the tooth is reached by bacteria, it can lead to infection that can cause pain.
A tooth infection may require a root canal treatment, where the infected pulp will be removed, refilled, and then a white tooth filling or crown will be used to completely seal the tooth. If the tooth is too damaged for root canal treatment, it may need a complete extraction.
To increase your chances of saving your tooth, it’s important to visit your dentist every 6 months for a check-up to identify any issues early. You may not even realise your tooth is infected, as the tooth nerves can lose their sensitivity.
6. Aesthetic concerns
As we get older, our teeth can become darker or more yellow in appearance due to the enamel on the teeth wearing down and revealing more of the underlying yellow dentine. Staining from food and drinks will also accumulate and discolour the teeth.
Cosmetic dental treatment options for improving the appearance of your teeth include:
7. Dry mouth
Dry mouth syndrome, or ‘xerostomia’ occurs when you produce less saliva than you’re supposed to, which can lead to tooth decay as saliva is essential for rinsing the mouth of sugars and neutralising acids, as well as lubrication when eating.
Dry mouth can be a result of many medications, smoking, some medical conditions and cancer treatment. Treatment options include changing medications, quitting smoking, drinking more water, chewing sugar-free gum or getting a saliva substitute from your dentist.
Best Gold Coast Dentist
If you’d like to find out more about how to take care of your teeth at any stage of your life, book an appointment at one of our Gold Coast dental clinics, where one of our amazing dentists can take a look at your teeth to provide you with the best dental advice and treatment plan for your unique needs!