Aging is inevitable. It is a natural process everyone goes through in life. Growing older does not always have a negative effect on overall health. What is often seen, as time passes, is that our muscles, bones, blood vessels and other tissues lose their elasticity. Even our heart becomes less efficient, bones become weaker, and our metabolism slows down. Regular professional overall health care is important at any age, but especially as we grow older. This is because we become more susceptible to developing certain oral diseases and conditions.
The Anatomical Changes in Teeth
As we age our bones become deceptive. Meaning, from the outside they appear strong and durable, but on the inside, they are slowly getting more brittle. Our bones are constantly being remolded, and they are in a continuous cycle of destruction and renewal until the day we pass away. Unfortunately, the problem is that as we age, we lose more bone than we make. This includes your tooth enamel. Your tooth enamel tends to wear away, making your teeth very vulnerable to any type of damage and decay. Losing your teeth is a major reason why the Geriatric population cannot chew as well, and this can lead to not consuming enough of the nutrients that your body needs. When an elderly patient loses their teeth, the portion of the jaw that was holding those teeth in place does not maintain its previous height/width. Over time it appears to waste away by getting shorter and thinner.
Common Dental Issues
Some of the most common dental issues that Los Angeles and Orange County elderly patients have:
- Dry Mouth– due to reduced saliva flow. This can be caused by a history of cancer treatments that use radiation to the head and neck area. It is also a very common result of medication side effects.
- Root Decay– caused by the roots of the tooth becoming exposed as gum tissue recedes down the tooth. Roots do not have enamel to protect them and are more prone to decay. The main reason root decay occurs is food pocketing between the teeth. This food needs to be brushed, flossed or flushed out after each meal.
- Gum Disease– caused by plaque build-up and are worse if there are poorly placed fillings, poorly fitted bridges and ill-fitting dentures, as well as certain diseases including diabetes, high blood pressure, and many others.
- Food Pocketing– often a result of certain medical conditions, it may be difficult for a person to swallow food properly. When they eat, they often do not realize that food is left in the cheeks. This worsens when there is decreased saliva flow and dry mouth. As a result, cavities form faster and often on the roots of the teeth.
- Tooth Loss– caused by advanced gum disease, large cavities, and bone loss.
- Uneven Jawbone– caused by the loss of a tooth and not doing something to replace the missing teeth. This often allows the rest of the teeth to shift into open spaces
Despite these issues, many Los Angeles and Orange County elderly patients are retaining their teeth longer. Especially people who do not have cavities or periodontal disease. This list can also be seen in our Nursing Home Dental Care page.
According to American Cancer Society, there are about 35,000 cases of oral cancer diagnosed each year. The average age of people who get this kind of cancer is 62. Regular dental visits are not only important because of the cleaning but also because the dentist performs an oral cancer screening. The early stages typically do not cause pain. Some symptoms you may see include open sores, white or reddish patches and change in the color of lips, tongue, and lining of the mouth that lasts for more than two weeks. It is important to be aware of these signs and symptoms. See your dentist is they do not disappear after two weeks.