Don’t buy into the myth that your teeth become more unhealthy as you age. It is not aging that automatically causes your teeth to deteriorate. In fact, if you take care of your teeth during childhood and adulthood, you can still have healthy teeth well into your senior years.
Here are some of the ways you can protect your teeth, so you can move into your golden years with the healthiest set possible.
Protect Against the Wear and Tear
Year after year of chewing and grinding does wear away at the enamel — the hard, outer layer — on your teeth. But there are many things you can do to mitigate the damage.
- Don’t chew ice or other hard foods such as nuts that can cause chips in the enamel or even break your tooth.
- If you grind your teeth at night (bruxism), talk to your dentist about getting a mouth guard. How do you know if you are grinding your teeth? You may have headaches, tooth pain, jaw pain or dental problems. Your dentist can tell if you have bruxism.
- You may have a poor bite, which can also lead to wear and tear on your teeth. Talk to your dentist about the possibility of getting orthodontic work to correct your bite. Many adults are choosing clear aligners, such as Invisalign, for orthodontics.
Decrease in Saliva Comes with Aging
Saliva helps clean your teeth and protect your mouth from tooth decay. As you age, however, there is a modest decrease in saliva production. This decrease can be exacerbated by certain drugs including antihypertensives, antihistamines, antidepressants, antipsychotics, antiemetics, antispasmotics and anti-parkinsonian drugs. All of these factors can cause dry mouth, also known as xerostomia.
To help with dry mouth, do the following:
- Drink more water and stay hydrated. Keep a bottle with you to sip throughout the day.
- Avoid things that can make you dehydrated, such as caffeine, alcohol, smoking, and sugary foods and beverages.
- Chew sugarless gum and suck on sugarless candies, which can provide some short-term relief.
- Use mouthwash that contains xylitol instead of one that contain alcohol.
- Focus on breathing through your nose, not your mouth.
- Use a humidifier to add more moisture to your environment.
- Try certain foods, such as ginger or sweet peppers, which are said to promote salivation.
- An over-the-counter saliva substitute such as xerostom may also offer short-term relief.
Ward Off Gum Disease
Gum disease, also known as periodontal disease, is a major cause of tooth loss in older adults. The disease is destructive and is caused by a long-term accumulation of bacteria. You are more at risk for gum disease if you smoke; have a disorder/illness such as diabetes or leukemia; or simply have poor dental hygiene.
The good news is that the best way to keep your gums healthy is to brush and floss twice a day. If you smoke, quit, and make sure you see your dentist for regular check-ups twice a year.
The health of your teeth and gums is mostly in your control. There is plenty that you can do to keep your teeth in great in great shape and in your mouth and avoid the need for dentures during your golden years.