In The Spotlight
Aging and Your Smile
Our teeth do a lot of work during our lifetime. They are useful for chewing food, speaking, shaping our face and showing the world a smile. Many people ages 60 and older no longer have any of their natural teeth. Missing teeth can affect what you eat as well as your overall health. Dental care becomes more important as time goes by. People with dentures or loose and missing teeth often limit what they eat. Biting into fresh fruits and vegetables may be difficult and painful. Because it is hard to chew food, they may not eat a healthy diet.
Aging teeth tend to lose their white color, turning yellow or gray. This happens due to changes in dentin, the bone-like tissue that is under your enamel. Gums also tend to draw back with age. These changes can lead to tooth decay (cavities) and gum (periodontal) disease. Tooth decay and gum disease are the leading causes of tooth loss in older adults. Research links gum disease to a number of major health concerns. These health concerns include heart disease, stroke, respiratory disease and diabetes. Gum disease is also associated with failure of joint replacements. This is due to infection in people with gum disease, which can travel to the site of the replacement. The severity of gum diseases increases with age. About 23% of 65-74 year-olds have severe gum disease. Many older adults take both prescription and over-the-counter drugs. These drugs may reduce the flow of saliva causing a dry mouth. Your spit (saliva) has germ-fighting ability and minerals that help rebuild tooth enamel. Loss of spit leaves teeth even more open to germs that cause decay.
What can you do to have a healthy mouth? Follow these steps for a healthy beautiful smile:
- Drink fluoridated water and use fluoride toothpaste
This will help you prevent cavities.
- Brush and floss your teeth
Do this after meals and at bedtime to reduce plaque and tartar
- See your dentist
Visit your dentist on a regular basis, even if you have no natural teeth or dentures. Dentists help you keep your teeth and mouth healthy. Dentists can find pre-cancer growths or spot cancer early on. See your dentist right away if you have a hard time chewing or swallowing. See your dentist right away if you have pain when you chew or swallow.
- Avoid tobacco use
Smokers have seven times the risk of getting gum disease compared to people who do not smoke. Tobacco in any form (cigarettes, cigars, pipes and chewed) increases your risk for health problems. This includes gum disease, mouth and throat cancers and fungal infections of the mouth
- Limit alcohol
Drinking too much alcohol increases your risk for mouth and throat cancers.
- Act on sudden changes in taste and smell
Sudden changes in taste and smell are a sign that you need to see a health care provider.
- Ask about drugs that make your mouth dry
If a drug is making your mouth dry, ask your health care provider if there is different drug you can take. If not, drink plenty of water and chew sugarless gum. Avoid tobacco and alcohol as they may make your mouth drier.
Make sure that you can enjoy the foods you like for a long time. Brush, floss and see your dentist regularly. Avoid tobacco use, and limit the amount of alcohol you drink. See a health care provider if you have a sudden change in taste and smell. Ask your health care provider about drugs that make your mouth dry. You and your dentist are partners in the care of your teeth. Take care of your teeth and they will take care of you.
- Denture care: How do I clean dentures? (Mayo Clinic)
- Oral Health Basics (American Dental Association)
- Dentures (Medline Plus)
- Dentaduras postizas (Medline Plus) (en español)
- How to Keep a Healthy Smile for Life (American Academy of Periodontology)
- Oral health: Brush up on dental care basics (Mayo Clinic) Too tired to brush your teeth? Too busy to floss? If you are tempted to skip these daily chores, remember that your smile depends on these simple dental care habits.
- Dental Care Every Day: A Caregiver's Guide (National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research) A caregiver's guide to getting started: Three steps to a healthy mouth.
Updated/Reviewed: June 1, 2010