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Our oral health can have an impact on our well-being at any age. As we grow older, adhering to good dental hygiene practices becomes even more important. Oral conditions like gum disease and dry mouth affect well over a third of seniors over the age of 60.
Whether you have a complete set of dentures or all of your natural teeth, it is important to keep an eye on your oral health. Follow these simple hygiene guidelines to ensure the health of your mouth and body!
Cavities & Tooth Decay
Cavities can form at any stage in our lives. When acidic plaque builds up on the teeth, erosion ultimately occurs, causing cavities. Cavities can even affect teeth that already have fillings. Individuals with recessed gums may notice the roots of their teeth decaying, too.
Though conditions like a dry mouth can make certain individuals more prone to tooth decay, most cases of cavity formation are preventable. Regular flossing and twice-daily brushing with fluoridated toothpaste are the most effective ways to eliminate plaque buildup. Ask your dentist for further advice regarding cavity prevention.
As with cavity formation, gum disease occurs as a result of plaque buildup around the gums. Minor gum disease, known as gingivitis, tends to cause red, irritated gums that bleed easily. Regular brushing and flossing can generally reverse gingivitis. More severe gum disease is known as periodontitis, a condition in which the gums begin pulling away from the teeth, leading to bacterial infections and potential gum, bone, and tooth loss.
Both gingivitis and periodontitis are generally preventable. Brushing twice a day and flossing will prevent most cases of gum disease. If you smoke, quitting will significantly reduce your risk of developing periodontitis. Eating well, avoiding tobacco products, and scheduling regular dental visits will also support the health of your gums.
Having enough saliva is critical to supporting your oral health. Saliva contains minerals, such as calcium, that strengthen the teeth. Saliva also mitigates the effects of cavity-forming germs in the mouth.
Having a dry mouth isn’t an inevitable part of the aging process. If you’re suffering from a persistently dry mouth, it is important to get to the root of the issue. Medications, such as antidepressants and high blood pressure drugs, can dry out the mouth. Illnesses, nerve conditions, and chemotherapy treatments can affect the salivary glands as well.
If you suspect that you’re suffering from a dry mouth, talk to a dentist or your family physician. You may need to switch medications or begin using a saliva substitute to restore the health of your mouth.
Oral cancer doesn’t just affect chewing tobacco users! Regular smokers and drinkers are also at risk for developing this disease. Those who smoke and drink heavily are most at risk for developing oral cancer. Individuals with HPV infections may also be at risk.
In general, oral cancer is diagnosed after the age of 55. Pain does not usually present itself during the early stages of the disease. Rather, other changes in oral health tend to reveal themselves first. Strange patches, sores, and lumps in the throat, mouth, or lip area may be indicative of disease. Difficulty in swallowing, chewing, and moving the tongue may also be warning signs of oral cancer. Reduced mobility or swelling of the jaw could also suggest a problem.
Though most individuals with these symptoms will not be diagnosed with oral cancer, any changes in oral health that persist for more than two weeks warrant a visit to a dentist or physician. If cancer is detected, early diagnosis will make it more easily treatable.
When to See a Dentist
If you’ve begun noticing negative changes in your oral health, it is likely time to visit a dentist. Toothaches, inflamed gums, jaw pain, dry mouth, and persistent spots and sores are just a few reasons you may need to go see a dentist. Regular tobacco users, individuals with certain chronic illnesses, and those who have undergone numerous prior dental procedures should consider visiting the dentist on a more regular basis, too. When in doubt, schedule an appointment with a professional. It’s always better to be safe than sorry!
In Conclusion: Maintaining good oral hygiene is mostly a matter of forming healthy dental habits. By brushing your teeth, flossing regularly, and visiting the dentist for annual or bi-annual checkups, you can keep your smile radiant for years to come.
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