1. As a senior adult, do I really need to be concerned about cavities any more?
Actually, cavities can be more frequent in older adults for a number of reasons. They may not have been exposed in childhood to fluoride in community water supplies and toothpaste, and adults are likelier to have decay around older fillings.
In addition, cavities in the tooth root are more common as gum tissue begins to recede in older adults, exposing the tooth root surface to decay. Also, dry mouth, resulting from the natural aging process and certain medications and diseases, can lead to more tooth decay. Without an adequate amount of saliva, food particles can’t be washed away and the acids produced by plaque can’t be neutralized.
2. My teeth have suddenly become very sensitive to both hot and cold, but my mouth is otherwise healthy. What could cause this?
Receding gum tissue could be the cause of sensitivity. As gum tissue pulls back away from teeth, the root of the tooth becomes exposed. A soft tissue graft would be the recommended treatment. Other treatment suggestions might include using a fluoride mouth rinse or switching to a toothpaste made specifically for sensitive teeth.
Visit your dentist to so that you can be diagnosed and treated properly.
3. Can braces still be an option for the senior adult?
There is no age limit for correcting misaligned (crooked) teeth. The mechanical process used to move teeth is the same at any age. So the benefits of orthodontic treatments such as braces are available to both children and adults who wish to improve their appearance and bite. The main differences between treatments in adults and children is that certain corrections in adults may require more than braces alone and the treatments may take longer because adult bones are no longer growing.
4. Are seniors more at risk for oral cancer?
Yes, the risk of oral cancer increases with age. Any lesion found on the tongue or anywhere in the mouth needs to be examined and closely watched. Smoking or drinking alcoholic beverages is associated with oral cancer.
5. Is there anything that can be done to make my loose teeth more secure?
First, visit a periodontist (a dentist who specializes in diagnosing, treating, and preventing diseases of the gums and the supporting bones of the teeth (both natural and man-made teeth). He or she will examine your condition, review your oral hygiene practices, and discuss your medical history. Certain medical conditions, such as diabetes, can contribute to the problem of loose teeth.
6. How does long-term smoking impact oral health?
For one, smoking increases your risk of oral cancer. Other oral health consequences include delayed healing following tooth extraction and periodontal treatment, increased bone loss within the jaw, bad breath, and tooth discoloration.
7. I’ve heard that dental implants are an alternative to dentures. What should I know about implants?
First, you should know that today’s older adults are keeping their natural teeth longer. According to a recent survey by the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, the rate of toothlessness in individuals aged 55 to 64 has dropped 60% since 1960. This is attributed to scientific developments, as well as to a growing awareness of good oral hygiene practices.
Despite this good news, some older adults do suffer from tooth loss and will need dentures, bridges, or an alternative — such as implants. Dental implants are replacement tooth roots. Implants provide a strong foundation for fixed (permanent) or removable replacement teeth that are made to match your natural teeth.
Not everyone is a candidate for dental implants. Patients should have healthy gums and enough bone to hold the implant. Heavy smokers, people suffering from uncontrolled chronic disorders — such as diabetes or heart disease — or patients who have had radiation therapy to the head-neck area need to be evaluated on an individual basis. Talk to your dentist to see if implants are an option for you.
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Good oral health involves more than just brushing. To keep your teeth and mouth healthy for a lifetime of use, there are steps that you should follow. Here’s what you should consider:
1. Understand your own oral health needs.
Talk with your dentist, other oral health care specialist, or hygienist about any special conditions in your mouth and any ways in which your medical/health conditions affect your teeth or oral health. For example, cancer treatments, pregnancy, heart diseases, diabetes, dental appliances (dentures, braces) can all impact your oral health and may necessitate a change in the care of your mouth and/or teeth. Be sure to tell your dentist if you have experienced a change in your general health or in any medications you are taking since your last dental visit.
2. Develop, then follow, a daily oral health routine.
Based on discussions with your oral health care provider about health conditions you may have, develop an oral health routine that is easy to follow on a daily basis. For example, people with special conditions, including pregnancy and diabetes, may require additional instruction and perhaps treatments to keep their mouth healthy. Make sure you understand the additional care and/or treatment that is needed, commit to the extra tasks, and work them into your daily health routine.
3. Use fluoride.
Children and adults benefit from fluoride use. Fluoride strengthens developing teeth in children and prevents tooth decay in both children and adults. Toothpastes and mouth rinses contain fluoride. Fluoride levels in tap water may not be high enough without supplementation to prevent tooth decay. Contact your water utility to determine the level for your area. Talk with your dentist about your fluoride needs. Ask if fluoride supplements or a higher strength, prescription fluoride product is necessary for you.
4. Brush and floss daily.
Brush your teeth at least twice a day (morning and before bed time) and floss at least once a day. Better still, brush after every meal and snack. These activities remove plaque, which if not removed, combines with sugars to form acids that lead to tooth decay. Bacterial plaque also causes gum disease and other periodontal diseases.
Antibacterial mouth rinse can reduce bacteria that cause plaque and gum disease, and fluoride mouth rinse can help prevent tooth decay, according to the American Dental Association.
5. Eat a balanced diet and limit snacking.
Eat a variety of foods, but eat fewer foods that contain sugars and starches (for example, cookies, cakes, pies, candies, ice cream, dried fruits and raisins, soft drinks, potato chips). These foods produce the most acids in the mouth, which begin the decay process. If you must snack, brush your teeth afterward or chew sugarless gum.
6. If you use tobacco products, quit.
Smoking cigarettes or using smokeless tobacco products increases your risk of oral cancer and cancers of the larynx, pharynx and esophagus; gum disease; bad breath; tooth discoloration; and other oral and general health problems.
7. Examine your mouth regularly.
Become familiar with the appearance of your own mouth and teeth through frequent examination. This way, you will be able to catch any changes at an early stage and have these changes examined by a dentist. Look for the development of any spots, lesions, cuts, swellings, or growths on your gums, tongue, cheeks, inside of your lips, and floor and roof of your mouth. Examine your teeth for any signs of chipping or cracking, discoloration, and looseness. If you experience a change in your bite or develop pain, call your dentist as soon as possible. An oral examination is particularly important to conduct if you are a tobacco user, since you are at an increased risk of developing oral cancer.
8. Visit your dentist regularly.
The standard recommendation is to visit your dentist twice a year for check-ups and cleanings. Talk with your dentist about the frequency that is best for you.
9. Develop a partnership with your dentist.
Don’t be afraid to ask your dentist for more information if you don’t understand a treatment or procedure. You should be able to have a free and frank discussion with your dentist. Here are questions you may want to ask:
- What are the treatment options for a particular dental condition?
- How do these options differ in cost and durability?
- Do all the options solve the problem? What are the benefits and drawbacks of each option?
- Of the dental treatments being recommended, which are absolutely necessary, which are less urgent, which are elective, and which are merely cosmetic?
- What are the consequences of delaying treatment?
- How much will the treatment cost?
- When is payment due?
- What method of payment does your dentist expect?
- Do you have a clear understanding of all fees and methods and schedules of payment?
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