2 Your Health: Keep your teeth longer

Dr. Suneeta Annamareddy, D.D.S.

Today’s older adults keep their natural teeth much longer than older adults of the past. There is less of a need for false teeth, i.e., complete or partial dentures. Yet, with the natural teeth that remain, there is a risk for tooth decay (also called cavities) and gum disease. These are the two most common mouth diseases throughout a person’s life. If these conditions are not treated, the teeth become painful, loose or broken. This causes chewing problems, changes in appearance and eventually affects older adults’ self-esteem.

Common dental issues in aging population

Tooth Decay

Older adults remain at risk for decay that is untreated in approximately 30% of adults with teeth. They are at increased risk for root decay, because their gums continue to recede which exposes root surfaces. Some of their medications can cause dryness in the mouth, which allows decay to continue. About 50% of people over 75 years old have root cavities affecting at least one or two teeth in the mouth.

Treating tooth decay in older adults can be complicated by the fact that many already have had significant dental work — fillings, crowns, bridges, etc. When a previously-restored tooth develops new or recurrent decay, saving it can be more complicated, costly or even impossible. A common mistake most people make is to rely on pain as an indication that a problem exists. This is a very unreliable method. A tooth might not hurt even if it needs extensive dental work, as age-related changes within the tooth structure can reduce pain perception. Regular dental checkups provide an important safeguard against this. Prevention through dental caries cavity risk assessment is a proactive way to strengthen teeth before they become weakened or develop cavities. By modifying or controlling known risk factors, like increasing hydration and adding topical fluoride in the form of toothpaste, mouth rinses or professionally applied varnishes, the dental team can help you to keep your teeth longer.

Gum disease

Myth: Gum disease is just a part of growing older.

Fact: You can prevent gum disease – it does not have to be a part of getting older.

Gum (periodontal) disease is an infection of the gums and surrounding tissues that hold teeth in place. Gum disease develops when plaque – a sticky film of bacteria – is allowed to build up along and under the gum line.

The good news is that gum disease can be prevented. It does not have to be a part of growing older. With thorough brushing and flossing and regular professional cleanings by your dentist, you can reduce your risk of developing gum disease as you age.

And if you have been treated for gum disease, sticking to a proper oral hygiene routine and visiting your dentist for regular cleanings can minimize the chances it will come back.

Here are some things you can do:

* Brush your teeth twice a day (with a fluoride toothpaste)

* Floss regularly to remove plaque between teeth

* Visit the dentist regularly for a check-up and professional cleaning

* Don’t smoke or use chewing tobacco

* Eat a well-balanced diet

Dr. Annamareddy is a general dentist with special interest in cosmetic dentistry and Invisalign. She received her D.D.S. degree from University of California, San Francisco, and has been practicing dentistry since 2004 in southeast Chandler. She likes to read, play with her two young boys and focus on interior design when  not at work.