Many things can change with our health as we enter the golden years of our lives. We can expect the same to happen with our oral health as well. Below is a small list of things we (or our parents, or our grandparents) should be aware of as we age.
Dry Mouth (xerostomia)
From my experience with senior dentistry, this is most often seen in patients who are taking a laundry list of medications, and is a common side effect of today’s medications in general. However, it can also occur from radiation to the head and neck area (from cancer treatments), general hormonal changes from aging, or from regular mouth breathing. Saliva has a cleansing effect in the mouth, helping to wash food particles and debris off our teeth. It’s no surprise that dry mouth is associated with a higher incidence of cavities. Dry mouth can also make wearing dentures painful, as friction against the oral tissues becomes an issue. If you experience dry mouth with any regularity, I recommend carrying a bottle of water at all times to keep the mouth moist, and the use of xylitol candies or chewing gum to help stimulate salivary flow.
A loss in manual dexterity can make oral hygiene very challenging. While our elderly patients may very well brush twice daily, the question is how well are they brushing? I often see heavy plaque and tartar deposits on the molars of my senior patients, indicating insufficient hygiene. If they’re finding it difficult to brush well, flossing is likely even more difficult. Consider using something like a water flosser, or delegating your oral hygiene to a caregiver altogether.
New denture wearers often find it difficult to eat and speak with their new teeth initially. I always make my patients aware of this adjustment period, but things will gradually improve over time. Have your dentures checked regularly for overall fit and function, to ensure there are no sharp edges causing discomfort. Even seasoned denture-wearers will need regular evaluations. A change in body weight, or changes in the bone supporting the denture can cause changes in overall fit, resulting in impaired function. I also recommend having a spare set of dentures, so you’re not caught in an emergency should you lose or break your main set.
Dr. Jonathan Yeung