As you age, your body can experience shifts in health that affect your mouth in ways you might not expect. In honor of Healthy Aging Month, take a look at few conditions people may encounter with age that can affect their oral health – including bone loss and dry mouth.
As you age, you become increasingly vulnerable to bone loss. One of the more common causes is osteoporosis, which causes bone density to decrease.1 In the United States alone, over 53 million people already have osteoporosis or are at high risk for developing it.2 Women are especially susceptible to bone loss, since many experience lower estrogen levels after menopause.3
What does all this have to do with your smile? When your jaw bones lose density, you become more susceptible to loose teeth and tooth loss.4 It can also cause your gums to recede, leaving more of your tooth exposed and susceptible to tooth decay.5
With these threats to your oral and overall health, it’s important to take proactive measures to stay in control. Calcium and vitamin D are both critical to preventing bone loss. It can also help to avoid smoking, limit alcohol consumption and engage in regular weight-bearing exercise such as walking, jogging and weight training.6 Work with your dentist to prevent bone loss or to treat it if you’ve already begun experiencing symptoms.
Many medications can reduce saliva and cause dry mouth, which can increase tooth decay. Saliva is essential to oral health as it helps wash away sugar, acid and food residue from your teeth. When you have dry mouth, these sugars and acids remain on your teeth for an extended period of time and wear away tooth enamel.
In addition to dry mouth, some medications can cause canker sores, a metallic taste, discolored teeth and gingival overgrowth, which is a condition where gums become swollen and begin to grow over teeth. Be sure to let your dentist know of any medications you are taking so they can recommend ways to combat dry mouth and any other side effects.
Other oral health and medical conditions
Visiting the dentist is important to maintaining good oral health at any age, but it is especially important as you get older. Tooth loss, gum disease and receding gums are more common among older adults. Regular dental visits can help prevent tooth loss and treat other oral conditions early before they become more serious and expensive to treat
A dental checkup can also benefit your overall health. Dentists can spot signs and symptoms of more than 120 diseases during an exam. Older adults are more susceptible to developing heart disease, diabetes and oral cancer, which all have symptoms that affect the mouth.
Caring for older family members and their oral health
About 65 million Americans, or 29% of the population, care for a chronically ill, disabled or older family member.7 Helping a loved one maintain good oral health can be challenge, but it is vital to their overall health and well-being. Here are some ways to help your loved one have a healthy smile.
- If a loved one has dexterity issues, get them an electric toothbrush and water pick to make it easier for them to keep their teeth and gums clean.
- To help a family member who may have memory issues, write short, step-by-step instructions for brushing and flossing that they can reference. Post these instructions in the bathroom near the sink.
- Make sure they visit the dentist regularly and let the dentist know of any oral health issues your loved one may be experiencing, such as dry mouth or pain. If the person you care for is missing teeth, discuss options with their dentist to help retain as much normal function as possible.8
- Daily brushing with fluoride toothpaste, flossing and use of fluoride mouth rinse can help prevent gum disease, tooth decay and any other negative effects a medical condition can have on oral health.
By staying vigilant and working with your or a loved one’s dentist and physician, you can help ease the effects of bone loss, dry mouth and other conditions on your or your loved one’s oral health.
4 https://www.bones.nih.gov/health-info/bone/bone-health/oral-health/oral-health-and-bone-disease 5 https://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/h/hormones