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I had to go to the dentist today for a filling, not because I had a cavity I was assured, but because the way I chewed was wearing a groove in a tooth. This got me thinking about oral health and the fact that no matter what your age you need to make dental care a part of your personal care, sigh.

The teeth of older adults are at greater risk of building up plaque, the colorless, sticky layer of bacteria that cause tooth decay and gum disease. This is magnified if oral hygiene is ignored. To fight off the specter of tooth decay brushing with a good fluoride toothpaste twice a day and flossing, (which I often neglect much to my dentist’s chagrin), or using a interdental cleaner, are recommended. Also seeing a dentist as often as you can for cleaning and exams is encouraged.

Believe it or not adults are just as at risk for cavities as children. The cause of tooth decay in adults is the same for all ages, the bacteria in plaque feeds on the carbohydrates, (sugar), in our diet, resulting in the production of cavity causing acids. Interestingly tooth decay manifests differently in older adults than in younger people. Adults are more likely to experience decay around old fillings, and as many older adults grew up without the benefits of fluoride, they may have more fillings than younger people. Decay of the tooth’s root is also common in older adults. Root cavities, as they’re called, occur when the gums recede, exposing the softer root surface, which is more easily decayed than tooth enamel. Gum disease is stealthy, often progresses slowly and painlessly over a long period of time. The longer it goes undetected and uncontrolled, the more damage it causes to gums and supporting tissues. Even thought gum disease is caused by plaque there are other factors that can increase the risk or severity of it. Food left between the teeth, smoking, chewing tobacco, badly aligned teeth, poorly fitted bridges or dentures and poor diets as well as systemic diseases like anemia all contribute to gum disease.

Interestingly, tooth decay can cause a condition called xerostomia, or dry mouth. This condition is the result of a decreased supply of saliva. It can be caused by medications, (anti-histamines, anti-hypertensive’s, and anti-depressants), or by radiation therapy to the head or neck. Saliva neutralizes the acids produced by plaque. Dry mouth, if left untreated, can lead to rampant tooth decay. If you think you have this problem a discussion with your dentist or medical doctor might be in order. They may recommend an artificial saliva and fluoride products that help prevent tooth decay. Periodontal disease can be controlled or arrested and in its early stages it can be reversed. Unfortunately severe cases may need surgery so if you have any of the following symptoms you may want to contact a dentist: bleeding gums when you brush: red, tender or swollen gums; gums that pulled away from the teeth; pus between your teeth and gums; and loose teeth or teeth that are moving apart. Also any change in your bite, an change in your partial dentures, constant bad breath or a persistent bad taste.

If you have partial dentures and they are not fitting properly it is not recommended that you fix them your self, this may cause irritation of the tong and mouth. It is better to go in for a fitting. If you have full dentures it is still recommended that you see a dentist for oral health check ups. Dentists screen for oral cancer, (95 percent of all cancers are found in people over 40), as well as signs of other diseases the signs of which can appear in the mouth.
Sharon Grant, LAD, BA, SAC, Media Phil Cert, PhD.
If you have anxiety over dental visits don’t hesitate to let the dental staff know, they are often trained in ways to help patients to relax and they can make the visit more pleasant. Also, keep your dentist up to date on any medications and supplements you are taking, these can affect your oral health as well as interact with any medications used in the course of your treatment.

Jan. 23, 2015


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