From Harvard Health
You may have noticed that your once-sparkling smile has dimmed over the years. Aging isn’t always pretty, and your mouth is no exception. A century ago, the need for dentures in later life was almost a foregone conclusion. Today, three-quarters of people over 65 retain at least some of their natural teeth, but older people still suffer higher rates of gum disease, dental decay, oral cancer, mouth infections, and tooth loss.
Teeth are amazingly strong, but a lifetime of crunching, gnawing, and grinding wears away the outer layer of enamel and flattens the biting edges. While there is not much you can do to stem the natural attrition of the tooth surface, the pillars of cavity prevention, brushing, flossing, and regular cleanings at the dentist’s office, remain the same at any age.
Age brings more health problems, and that often means multiple medications, many of which can have a detrimental effect on your oral health. For example, calcium-channel blockers for heart disease and antiseizure drugs can cause the proliferation of puffy gum tissue, particularly around the lower front teeth. Good oral hygiene can combat this problem.
Hundreds of medications list dry mouth as a side effect. Whether caused by medication, or other contributing factors, lack of saliva is more than just uncomfortable. It makes eating and swallowing difficult, causes bad breath, and leads to irritation and infection of oral tissues. It also raises your risk for gum disease and tooth decay. You can moisten a dry mouth by chewing sugarless gums or sucking on sugarless candies. Simply drinking more water can help; try holding it in your mouth for a few seconds before you swallow. Alcohol and caffeinated beverages dry out the mouth, so use them in moderation.
The well-being of your aging mouth is tied to the health of the rest of your body. There’s mounting evidence of an association between gum inflammation and conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and respiratory problems, all of which are more prevalent in later life. Scientists postulate that bacteria from gum infections travel through the bloodstream to trigger inflammation in organs and tissues at distant sites.
For diabetes, a disease that afflicts nearly a quarter of Americans over age 60, the cause and effect may go both directions. Over the years, uncontrolled blood sugar damages the blood vessels that supply the gums, so they become susceptible to infection, which accelerates periodontal disease. High blood sugar also translated into increased sugar in oral fluids for bacteria to feed on. Conversely, inflammation from oral infection may increase the body’s resistance to insulin, leading to greater difficulty in keeping blood sugar under control.
Regular dental check-ups are the best assurance for a healthy mouth and save money in the long run.