What gum and dental problems can I face with aging?

Taking care of your teeth and gums by brushing, flossing, and getting regular cleaning and checkup is important for preventing disease and decay (cavities in the teeth).

Gum disease is a chronic infection of the tissues supporting the teeth. The warning signs include gums that bleed easily, are red, swollen, and tender, or have pulled away from the teeth; persistent bad breath or bad taste; permanent teeth that are loose or separating; any change in the way your teeth fit together when you bite; and any change in the fit of partial dentures.

Gum disease begins when the bacteria in plaque (the colorless, sticky material that forms on your teeth) irritate the gums and cause them to swell. In more advanced phases, the disease is known as periodontitis. The bacteria go under the gum line, eventually attacking the tissues and bone around the teeth. This can lead to tooth loss. Treatment may include special cleaning under the gum line and, in more advanced cases, surgery.

Regular checkup can help detect, prevent, and treat cavities, gum disease, and other dental problems. The American Dental Association recommends the following for optimal oral health:
  • Brush your teeth twice a day with ADA accepted fluoride toothpaste.
  • Clean between the teeth daily with floss or an interdental cleaner.
  • Eat a balanced mix of foods and limit between-meal snacks.
  • Visit your dentist regularly for professional cleaning and oral exams.
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No matter what your age is there is a constant need to maintain a good oral hygiene regimen. Consistent oral health habits and routine check ups can avoid or minimize many problems, as you get older.

Common problems associated with aging are loose teeth, missing teeth, worn out teeth, recession, gum disease etc. Early detection of cavities, gum disease, parafunctional habits, and malocclusion can help to increase your chances of keeping your teeth for a lifetime. In addition, your over all health can also be a factor in your oral health. Many elderly take many medications for various health problems that can cause the mouth to get dry and consequently contribute to the development of dental problems. Saliva has a natural protective effect in the mouth. A lack of saliva can increase the risk of getting cavities bellow the gum line and can cause difficulty in speech, chewing, and swallowing.

So, be sure to stay on top of your oral health regimen. Brush morning and night, floss daily, and see your dentist as recommended. 
Associated with aging we see gum recession, and exposure of the tooth's vulnerable root surfaces. This surface lacks the protective coating of enamel. It is more vulnerable to cavities, especially in persons with dry mouth. Saliva provides a protective layering of minerals, and to some extent helps flush away bacteria and chemicals made by bacteria.

A fluoridated toothpaste can really help. Please ask your dentist or hygienist about prescription strength fluoridated toothpastes, and remineralizing toothpastes.

Also, please advise you dentist about changes in your medical prescriptions. Although they may not seem to be related to dentistry, many cause dry mouth. Your dentist is there to assist you in optimal health.
With aging, mature adults usually require repair of previously restored teeth. Decay in the mature adult often affects the roots of the teeth as well as the crowns (coronal caries). The material of roots is softer than the enamel of crowns.

The gums normally recede with aging, leaving the surfaces of the roots of the teeth more exposed, less protected, and more susceptible to decay. With aging, it requires careful brushing and flossing to ensure cleanliness.

It's estimated that 25 percent of adults over age 60 no longer have their natural teeth. Missing or infected teeth can hinder eating a balanced diet, which is important for disease prevention. Along with cavities, gum (periodontal) disease is a frequent cause of tooth loss. Periodontal disease increases with aging, and men have a higher chance of severe gum disease than women.

Many older adults take medications that result in dry mouth. Dry mouth causes a reduction in lubricating saliva, which contains minerals and antimicrobial chemicals that coat and protect the teeth. People with dry mouth may have difficulty speaking, chewing, or swallowing.

No matter what your age, go in for periodic dental checkups.
Carol Jahn
Aging doesn't cause dental problems, per se; however, problems that come from aging may effect your oral health.  For example, many types of medications can make your mouth dry. A dry mouth makes you more prone to tooth decay, especially on root surfaces. Chewing gum can help stimulate saliva; make sure you choose brands that are sugar-free. If you have arthritic hands, it may be difficult for you to use dental floss. Switching to a floss holder, interdental brush or a Water Flosser might be a good option. All work as well as floss and require less manual dexterity.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.