A: I have been practicing dentistry for over 20 years now. As a result, I have seen many of my patients advancing in years (but not me!). I see people in all stages of health, but a common denominator is that everyone still wants to be able to eat comfortably and enjoy their food. Whether gathering for a meal, having a steak, or eating healthy vegetables, thinking about your teeth can be a big issue for some people.
As we age, certain things may cause oral health to deteriorate. The first of these obviously is that a person has been using their teeth for many years. The permanent dentition is usually complete by age 12. That means that a person who is 80 has been using their teeth for 68 years to chew, tear open bags, bite threads, take out stress by grinding and clenching and so on. It is quite amazing that teeth can stand that kind of abuse and in many instances, be in great shape. Much of long term dental health depends on the amount and extent of dental work the patient has received over their lifetime. I have patients that are over 100 years old with beautiful teeth. I also see patients struggle with teeth issue many decades before becoming a centenarian. So taking care of your teeth from the start will reap lasting benefits.
Health issues may also affect the health of your teeth as you get older. Medications and treatments associated with diabetes, high blood pressure, and cancer to name a few, can cause a decrease in saliva. In turn, loosing the lubricating and cleansing affects of saliva can lead to tooth decay- especially decay on the roots of teeth. This can be devastating to the teeth if not properly managed. Diabetes itself is linked to loss of bone around the teeth and tooth loss if not kept under control. Having regular visits to the dentist can help you make a plan to keep your teeth and gums healthy, and spot problems when they are easier to manage.
Those who have not maintained good oral health may find themselves with problems if their health deteriorates to the point when they are not able to care for themselves. Having to rely on a caregiver for teeth brushing (and flossing!) they may find that another person is not going to do an adequate job of caring for their teeth. Compound that with already existing poor oral health and it is a recipe for disaster. It is a difficult decision when a patient is in poor health to take on extensive dental work, but sometimes the choices are limited. It is a much better scenario to keep things as healthy as possible before entering into this situation.
Some tips for senior oral care are to use an electric toothbrush. These take less manual dexterity to do a decent job cleaning the teeth. Make sure you are using a fluoride toothpaste twice a day. Also limit the amount of sugary or refined carbohydrate foods. These can lead to increased tooth decay if teeth are not cleaned regularly. Fluoride rinses may also help to prevent cavities. Your dentist and hygienist are trained to combat diminishing oral health so visiting regularly can be one of the most important steps in keeping your teeth and gums healthy for your whole life.