Taking steps now will help protect your dental health and prevent serious decay and disease from developing as you get older.

The changes that occur in your body as you age can be seen in your mouth just as readily as they can be seen in other areas. Being aware of these changes is the first step in protecting your teeth and gums.

Erosion/loss of tooth enamel. Over time, depending on your eating habits and the state of your health, you may begin to lose tooth enamel. As enamel wears away, teeth become brittle and sensitive. Teeth also dry out and become more brittle with age because fewer blood vessels are available to deliver fluids and nutrients.

Slowdown of saliva production. As you get older you produce less saliva, and you may routinely take medications that reduce it even further. The result is a dry mouth, which is not only unpleasant, but can cause chewing and swallowing difficulties, bad breath, tooth decay, and irritated tissue in your mouth that can lead to infection.

Gum infections and inflammation. Chronic medical conditions that are more common in later years, such as heart disease, diabetes and respiratory distress are thought to be associated with gum infections and inflammation. According to Harvard Family Health Guide, some scientists believe that bacteria present in gum infections can get into the bloodstream and causes inflammation in other parts of the body.

When to See Your Dentist

It is important to see your dentist regularly and to have your teeth professionally cleaned and your gums scaled, if necessary. Your dentist is able to detect some dental problems in their early stages, before you do. For instance, you won't feel pain from worn enamel until the condition is quite serious, but your dentist will check for enamel loss during a routine visit.

Dentists are often the first to spot infections and abnormal growths in the mouth or to notice gum recession. You may also develop more cavities near your gum lines as you get older and your receding gums expose the softer roots of your teeth. Your dentist can spot early signs decay before you become aware of it.

Keeping Teeth and Gums Healthy

In between visits to the dentist, there are several steps you can take to keep your teeth, gums, and mouth in their best possible shape:

  • Brush thoroughly at least twice a day and floss at least once a day to remove the sticky plaque that forms after you eat and leads to tooth decay and gum disease. Brush your teeth, gums, and tongue, and rinse well. If you need to, ahem, "brush up" on proper tooth and gum care, ask your dentist or dental hygienist for a demonstration.
  • If you have arthritis or another condition that makes it difficult for you to clean your teeth, consider an electric toothbrush. Your dentist can help you choose the type of dental aid, such as a water irrigator or an interdental cleaner, that is best for you.
  • If you notice that your gums bleed easily, or if they appear red and swollen, see your dentist as soon as possible. These are signs of gum disease and should be treated as soon as possible. Advanced gum disease causes teeth to loosen and fall out.
  • To alleviate dry mouth and encourage saliva production, suck on sugarless hard candy or chew sugarless gum. Drink more water and rinse your mouth often with water. Speak to your dentist about using oral lubricants and saliva substitutes, which are available over the counter and by prescription.




Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide: The Aging Mouth-And How to Keep It Younger. Web 24 Feb 2012

University of Maryland Medical Center: Dental Care—Adult. Web 24 Feb 2012

University of Missouri Extension: Basic Dental Health for Older Adults. Web 24 Feb 2012