Getting Older? Watch Out For These Dental Issues

Getting older is a fact of life -- and the human mouth ages just as fast as the rest of the body. If you're reaching your senior years, you may be prepared for the occasional backache or joint twinge, but you should also watch out for certain dental/oral issues that are more likely to afflict you in your old age. Here are three potential problems that merit discussions with your dentist and regular routine examinations.

Dry Mouth

Have you noticed that saliva is in somewhat short supply these days? Dry mouth might not sound like a serious medical problem, but you might be surprised to learn just how much trouble it can cause for your teeth. Saliva doesn't just help you swallow and digest your food; it also protects your tooth enamel from bacterial infestation, dilutes acids that might otherwise damage tooth enamel, and even helps enamel remineralize. Insufficient saliva production can open the door to tooth decay, gum disease, sensitive teeth and other problems. 

What does this have to do with age? Many older people are taking medications for a host of age-related ailments, from hypertension and heart trouble to cancer. Unfortunately, more than 500 different drugs are known causes of dry mouth, so this makes the elderly population especially prone to the problem. Some diseases that are more prevalent with age, such as diabetes, can also cause dry mouth on their own. If you're suffering from this issue, talk to your family doctor about possible solutions or treatments so you can protect your teeth.

Oral Cancer

The risk for many types of cancer increases with age -- and oral cancer is no exception. Most of the people who develop this disease do so after the age of 55, with an average diagnosis age of 62. Time plays a role in oral cancer development in several ways. For one thing, smoking is a known cause of oral cancer, and it follows that the longer a smoking habit goes unchecked, the more exposure to carcinogens the mouth is exposed to over a lifetime. Oral cancers on the lips can also be caused by exposure to ultraviolet rays. People who have spent decades out in the sun without using sunscreen or UV-blocking lip balm would naturally have a higher oral cancer risk than those who haven't lived long enough to experience the same exposure.

The most alarming thing about oral cancer is its combination of aggressiveness and subtlety. Although it progresses rapidly, the signs of its encroachment may not even be visible to the untrained eye without special equipment. By the time the cancer is obvious, it has usually reached a dangerously advanced stage. This is a great reason to keep those regular dental appointments -- the more chances your dentist has to detect the cancer early, the better your odds of beating it through treatment.

Worn Dental Work

Even the strongest, highest-quality dental work rarely lasts forever. After many years of hard use, you can expect the occasional appliance to fail. Fillings may pop out of a tooth worn down by age. Bridgework may break. Crowns can crack. At the same time, changes in the mouth may call for corresponding changes to your dental work. For instance, if your dentures are coming loose or hurting your gums, then you may have experienced enough bone loss in the jaw to spoil the perfect fit of the appliance. These problem are more than mere annoyances -- they can have a direct impact on your dental health and quality of life. Exposed holes in the teeth invite infection, while ill-fitting dentures can cause oral ulcers.

Fortunately, dentists can repair these problems relatively easily. Replacing a damaged crown or lost filling is hardly a difficult procedure, yet it can save you a great deal of future grief. Having a replacement bridge installed is no more difficult than the creation of the original bridge was. The inner surfaces of your dentures can be relined to restore a secure, comfortable fit. But it's up to you to respond to these problems by scheduling an immediate appointment at your dental clinic.

The best thing you can do for your aging mouth also happens to the best strategy for any dental patient, regardless of age. Visit sites like to learn about the specific services dentists can offer you, and talk to the dentists in your area about any ailments or concerns that are troubling you. By scheduling twice-yearly dental evaluations, you'll get the proper care and attention your teeth need to age as gracefully as the rest of you!