|Keeping your older adult’s teeth and mouth healthy can be challenging because aging and health conditions can make them more vulnerable to dental problems. Wisdom may come with age, but so does a multitude of problems associated with aging teeth and gums. A lifetime of chewing, grinding, gnashing, and general wear and tear combined with medications, medical conditions, and a potential decrease in dental care can cause many oral health problems in older adults.
These issues may result in significant tooth pain, inflamed gums, bleeding gums, or gum infection. Here are 5 common geriatric dental problems to watch out for, plus advice on prevention, treatment, and management.
1. Tooth decay
Tooth decay can lead to cavities, which can cause pain, infection, and even tooth loss. It is often caused by a build-up of plaque and tartar. A diet with sugary foods, a tendency to snack between meals, and a decrease in saliva production all contribute to the build-up of sugar and acid in the mouth.
Medical conditions can play a major role too. For example, tooth brushing can be difficult and painful for those with arthritis and can appear a near impossible task for those who have dementia. Prevention is the best approach. Brush teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste, decrease the amount of sugary foods and drink water after each meal. Switching to an electric toothbrush may be easier to use and is more effective.
If tooth decay remains a concern, talk to the dentist about options like using a fluoride rinse or fillings and crowns to combat advanced decay.
2. Gum disease
Gum disease, also called periodontal disease, is a common problem caused by bacteria in plaque and tartar. Smoking can also play a significant role. Symptoms in the later stages of gum disease include irritated, red, and bleeding gums.
Gingivitis is the inflammation of the gums due to bacteria build-up where teeth meet gum tissue. This can develop into periodontitis, a serious gum infection that damages the gum tissue and the bone that supports the teeth. If the ability to chew and swallow is impaired, inadequate nutrition can also lead to additional gum health issues.
Thankfully, gum disease is both preventable and treatable through proper dental care. This includes flossing and brushing daily. Definitely visit the dentist if your older adult has symptoms of gum disease. They’ll be able to provide a detailed assessment and evaluation and create a treatment plan.
3. Receding gums
Gum recession is a gradual process where gums shrink away from teeth. It is commonly caused by gum diseases and poor dental hygiene, although smoking, family history and teeth grinding (known as bruxism) are also possible contributing factors. Teeth may become sensitive as the root of the tooth becomes exposed and teeth may appear to lengthen. Untreated, this condition can result in significant damage to oral tissues, an increased likelihood of developing gum disease, and tooth loss.
Again, prevention is the best cure, through practicing good oral hygiene, quitting smoking, and avoiding sugary foods. If your older adult shows signs of receding gums, visit the dentist as soon as possible to discuss how to best address the issue. Treatment options range from deep cleaning or scaling to surgical procedures such as gum grafts.
4. Dry mouth
Many people experience decreased saliva production with age, a common syndrome known as dry mouth, or xerostomia. It is also a known side effect of many medications. The problem with reduced saliva production is that sugar and acids build up more readily in the mouth, resulting in an increased chance of cavities and leads to some of the problems mentioned above. It can also result in dry, cracked lips and a swollen tongue, making it difficult to speak and swallow.
To combat these negative consequences, have your older adult drink water regularly and avoid sugary foods and drinks. Chewing gum and lozenges can stimulate saliva production and mouth rinses can prevent acid build-up.
5. Oral cancer
The chance of oral cancer increases with age. People who smoke or drink alcohol frequently are at higher risk. It is worthwhile to have the dentist check out any persistent sores, ulcers, or color changes in the tissue in or around your older adult’s mouth. Early identification could save your older adult’s life, so regular dental examinations are important to ensure that their gums and surrounding tissue are as healthy as possible.