Health issues may naturally come with age, but who says you have to take them lying down? Believe it or not, something as simple as regular dental visits can make a big difference in quality of life as you get older, even if you're sporting dentures or have managed to keep your smile free of cavities. Stay one step ahead of these six age-related oral problems by making routine checkups a top priority.
1. Oral Cancer
No one is immune from the threat of oral cancer, but more often than not, older patients are diagnosed with the disease. Many symptoms–especially those that emerge in less accessible areas of your mouth and throat–are hard to detect on your own, but your dentist can spot the warning signs right away with a thorough screening. Since oral cancer screenings are conducted during each checkup, regular visits are critical to catching and treating the disease as early as possible.
2. Poor Hygiene
Oftentimes, elderly patients face more dental problems as basic aspects of hygiene, such as brushing and flossing, are hindered due to arthritis or other health conditions. Not surprisingly, poor hygiene results in cavities, gum disease and bad breath. Frequent professional cleanings, however, can go a long way in keeping plaque buildup and tooth decay at bay. Discussing the problem with your dentist can also point you towards better tools for at-home care, such as electric toothbrushes, which may prove easier to wield for those with dexterity issues, or flossers that are more comfortable on the hands.
3. Dry Mouth
Seniors dealing with larger health issues often find themselves plagued by a case of dry mouth, due to insufficient production of saliva. In order to avoid needless dental complications, such as tooth decay, halitosis and gum disease, get your dentist's help to treat the problem. Because common medications are often the cause of dry mouth, more preventative care may be necessary to maintain your oral health if stopping or switching medication is not possible. In addition to more frequent checkups, your dentist may also prescribe an oral rinse, or suggest an over-the-counter alternative as well as xylitol-based products to stimulate the salivary glands.
4. Reduced Sensitivity To Taste
If you've noticed a significant change in your ability to taste, gum disease or dental work that isn't well fitted could be to blame. In such cases, it can be reversed with better hygiene and professional care, and you can expect to eventually regain your sense of taste and better enjoy your food.
5. Denture-Related Issues
While dentures are a cost-effective solution for lost teeth, they do not last a lifetime, and eventually need to be reshaped or completely replaced. Having them checked periodically by your dentist can help minimize the risk of mouth sores ("stomatitis"), chewing and speech problems, and/or bad breath due to worn or ill-fitting dentures. Furthermore, dentist checkups can result in early detection and treatment of bone loss, a common side effect of wearing dentures over time. In certain cases, implants may be recommended by him or her to help maintain the existing bone and improve denture stability.
6. Worn Dental Work
Similar to dentures, any previous dental work needs to be looked at regularly to avoid preventable mouth problems. Fillings, for example, can weaken, crack, chip or come out completely, re-exposing cavities that can deepen and result in infection if left untreated. Bridges, crowns and veneers are just as vulnerable to daily wear and tear, and should be inspected often to minimize the chance of a dental emergency.
Enlist The Help Of Family And Friends
Maintaining good oral health and hygiene is not always easy, but
seeking help from nearby loved ones (or your caregiver) can help ensure your dental needs are being met. Arranging for transportation, scheduling dentist appointments, and shopping for dental care products are simple, yet significant ways to help. Call your dentist for any questions or additional resources specific to aging and oral health.