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Dental Care for Ageing Teeth

By: Hsin-Yi Cohen BSc, MA, MSt - Updated: 29 May 2012 | comments*Discuss
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Like other parts of our body, our teeth and gums start changing as we get older. Knowing how to deal with these changes and prevent any problems will help greatly in maintaining your oral health.

What Happens to Teeth as You Get Older?

As you age, your teeth will appear to get darker and less white, due to changes in the dentin beneath the surface enamel. The enamel itself may become worn down from years of chewing and this causes teeth to generally become more sensitive.

The teeth themselves also become dryer and more brittle, which makes them more likely to break or crack during the course of normal chewing.

Meanwhile, gums may start to recede, especially if they are suffering from periodontal disease or have been subject to too-forceful brushing. Receding gums can increase the risk of tooth decay - in addition, plaque build up increases as you age and this sticky layer of bacteria can also encourage dental decay. Any old fillings you may have had may start to fracture and will probably need repair, otherwise they allow bacteria to accumulate in tiny crevices.

Finally, reduced saliva flow may not be a normal sign of ageing but it can be a side-effect of many medications that are required to combat illnesses that come with age. This reduced saliva flow causes mouth dryness, which can cause further problems since saliva has an important role in cleaning and rinsing the mouth, as well as removing any leftover food and decay-causing acids.

What is Periodontal Disease?

Otherwise known as gum disease, periodontal disease causes inflammation in your gums and if untreated, will cause them to recede, as well as contributing to tooth root decay. Eventually, it affects your jawbones and your teeth will weaken and drop out. It is now even believed that periodontal disease can contribute to organ failure and inflammation in other parts of the body, through bacteria in the bloodstream.

Gum disease is a very common problem – the majority of people over 50 years suffer from some form of gum disease. Periodontal disease can be prevented by regular flossing and brushing, dental check-ups and good nutrition.

Taking Care of Ageing Teeth?

Start by ensuring that you have a good, balanced diet. Choose calcium-rich foods, such as dairy products, to help promote good, strong teeth. Make sure that you also have enough Vitamin D as a study in the British Dental Journal showed that vitamin D can help calcium prevent bone loss and gum inflammation.

Vitamin D is available from oily fish or simply from spending 15 minutes in the sunshine. Avoid carbonated drinks like the plague – these not only cause dry mouth but also contribute to tooth decay. Any caffeinated carbonated drinks will also stain your teeth.

Next, make sure that you follow good oral hygiene, such as brushing and flossing regularly and scheduling regular check-ups with the dentists. If you’re worried about brushing too forcefully, consider investing in an electric toothbrush. Consult your dentist for advice if you are unsure of which dental cleaning device to use or if you’re having trouble with things like flossing correctly. Choose a fluoride toothpaste and drink plenty of water.

To keep teeth white, avoid cigarettes, alcohol and caffeinated drinks– this will also reduce your risks of oral cancer. Nowadays, you can also use whitening toothpastes to help maintain your teeth’s brightness and remove stains. Professional teeth whitening treatments are also available – your dentist will be able to advise you on these – but remember that these are only temporary solutions and will not work if you continue smoking and drinking alcohol and caffeinated drinks.

Remember also that teeth whitening is a complicated procedure and should not be carried out until your dentist has conducted a thorough examination of your teeth. Certain features, such as crowns and dentures, will not bleach well and you could run the risk of certain teeth showing whiter than others, giving your mouth a resemblance to a piano keyboard! This is one reason why DIY whitening kits are not really advisable.

Always see your dentist at the first sign of trouble, whether this is sore gums, pain on chewing, swollen or red gums, bleeding gums or loose teeth. Other things to look out for include difficulty chewing and swallowing, moving your tongue or jaw or even speaking – and any change in the way your teeth fit together.

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