As you get older, several factors put you at higher risk for oral health problems. Thinning enamel, gum disease, ill-fitting dentures, side effects of certain medications and medical conditions such as diabetes, arthritis and osteoporosis can increase your need for dental treatment.
Although gum disease can develop at any age, reports show that about 17% of individuals age 65 and older have periodontal disease. The numbers increase after age 75 with men more at risk for the disease than women of the same age. The severity of the disease also increases with age.
Decreased immunity, changes in hormone levels and tobacco use are common factors that contribute to gum disease. Medications, including immunosuppressant drugs to treat rheumatoid arthritis and calcium channel blockers to treat high blood pressure and heart disease, can also lead to infection of the gums and surrounding tissues.
But just because you’re getting older doesn’t mean that you will develop gum disease. Practicing proper oral hygiene, monitoring medication side effects, and scheduling regular dental appointments can help lower your risk.
Diabetes and osteoporosis can affect your gums and jawbone, leading to oral health problems and ill-fitting dentures.
Diabetes increases the risk of progressive gum disease, especially if your blood sugar is poorly managed. According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, gum disease occurs more often in individuals with diabetes in whom blood glucose levels aren’t adequately managed.
Osteoporosis — a condition that causes bones to thin and weaken — can lead to jawbone deterioration and loss. Consequently, the loss of bone density in the jawbone can affect denture wear. Even if you don’t wear dentures, osteoporosis can damage the bone that supports the teeth, leading to periodontal disease and tooth loss.
Medications that doctors prescribe to treat osteoporosis can also damage the jawbone. Although the risk is low, antiresorptive medications used to strengthen bones increase the risk of developing osteonecrosis of the jaw — death of bone tissue characterized by loss of gingiva and gum lesions that do not heal.
If your dentures aren’t fitting properly, see your dentist for possible causes. Let your dentist know about your medical history and any prescription medications you take. He or she will look for signs of gum disease including red, swollen or bleeding gums. Certain prescription medications can cause dry mouth or your gums to enlarge — both conditions that may affect the fit of your dentures.
As you age and your teeth begin to wear out, shifting of teeth can occur. Bone loss and tooth loss associated with periodontal disease are common reasons why the teeth of older individuals shift.
Loss of bone in the jaw as you get older can cause your teeth to shift. If you’re a smoker, you are even more at risk for tooth movement. Like aging, smoking leads to bone loss in the jaw, which can cause the alignment of teeth to shift.
Regardless of the cause, as bone loss occurs and the gums recede, the lower teeth can shift inward, changing the appearance of your teeth. In addition, normal wear and tear due to a lifetime of grinding and chewing can cause your back teeth to eventually angle inward.
Progressive periodontal disease that can occur with aging often leads to loose teeth and tooth loss. The teeth adjacent to where a tooth is missing may shift toward the gap, causing crooked teeth.
Dental implants and bridges help prevent adjoining teeth from drifting into spaces left open by missing teeth. Veneers and crowns are additional options for improving the appearance of teeth that have shifted. If your dentist suggests orthodontic treatment, keep in mind that you are never too old to achieve successful results.
Stains and enamel loss cause teeth to look yellow or brown. As the outer tooth enamel gets thinner with age, the underlying dentin shows through. Dentin is naturally yellowish in color; therefore, as you get older and enamel thins, your teeth look darker in color. Once the dentin is exposed, the teeth absorb the colors of dark foods and beverages more readily.
Tobacco is another culprit that contributes to discolored teeth. Not only does the nicotine in tobacco stain teeth, other chemicals in tobacco can erode the dentin. The longer you smoke, the more time these chemicals have to weaken tooth enamel, making it easier for stains to set in teeth. However, routine dental cleanings and polishing remove most surface stains from teeth.
When the bacteria in plaque change the starches in the foods you eat into acids, those acids dissolve the minerals in tooth enamel, leading to dentin exposure and discoloration. Therefore, preventing plaque buildup is the first defense against enamel erosion.
If you smoke, quit to prevent further damage to your tooth enamel. You’ll notice a decrease in your other oral health problems as well.Since aging can bring changes to your oral health, contact the dentists at Treasured Smiles Adult and Cosmetic Dentistry to schedule a full dental assessment for answers to how well your teeth are holding up.