- How your teeth age depends on how well you’ve cared for them over the years.
- Older adults need to focus on the prevention of cavities, gum disease and dry mouth.
- There are certain medications that can affect your oral health.
Brushing twice a day and flossing daily is important for everyone to do, no matter what age you are. But older adults need to be more aware of cavities and gum disease. There are also some medical conditions you may experience as you age that can affect your oral health.
It’s important for you to tell your dentist about your medical history. They need to know about:
- Any recent illness or hospital stay.
- Any medications you are taking and the doses and frequency. This includes herbal medicines, over-the-counter medications and prescriptions.
- The name and contact information of your family doctor.
Knowing the state of your general health can help your dentist know what to watch for.
Many older adults grew up without fluoride in the water and are more likely to have tooth decay around fillings. Tooth decay at the root is also common in older adults. When the gums recede, the softer and more sensitive root surfaces are exposed. Learn more about cavity prevention.
Periodontal, or gum, disease often progresses at a slow pace, over time, with no pain. That’s why it’s very common in older adults. But this condition can become dangerous if it goes undetected. There is evidence linking gum disease to heart disease, respiratory disorders and strokes.
Visit our gum disease page to learn about the risk factors, signs and symptoms and prevention.
Dry mouth (xerostomia) can happen when the saliva glands aren’t working properly. Saliva is vital to keep your mouth moist, wash away food and neutralize the acids produced by bacteria. Dry mouth can also make it difficult to eat, swallow, taste and even speak. It can be caused by certain medical conditions and medications. Some of the more common medications are:
- Bronchodilators (typically used for asthma)
- Decongestants (typically used for colds)
- Diuretics (typically used to increase the flow of urine)
- Muscle relaxants
- Narcotic analgesics (typically pain medications)
- Sedatives (typically known as tranquilizers)
- Anti-anxiety medications
- Anti-hypertensive medications
- Anti-depressant medications
- Anti-parkinsonian medications
Talk to your dentist about methods to restore moisture. Learn more about dry mouth.
According to the Canadian Cancer Society, the risk of developing oral cancer increases with age and is greatest after 45 years of age. Early diagnosis and treatment increase long-term survival. Contact your dentist immediately if you notice sores, changes in your voice or other changes in the mouth that last more than two weeks.
Most early signs of oral cancer are difficult to detect without the trained eyes of your dentist. That is why it’s a good idea to have regular check-ups. Even if you don’t have any natural teeth, or if you have never smoked, getting an oral cancer exam by your dentist twice a year is recommended.
You may notice that as you age it’s tougher to keep your teeth looking white. This may be true for a couple of reasons. Tooth bacteria (plaque) builds faster and in greater amounts as we age. Dentin (a bone-like tissue under the enamel) changes and causes your teeth to look darker. As long as your teeth are healthy, any discolouration is cosmetic and nothing to worry about.
You might also notice a change in your sense of taste. This can be caused by certain diseases, medications and hormonal changes.
Women can experience many changes during menopause. These can include:
- Changes to taste buds
- Burning sensation in the mouth
- Sensitivity to hot and cold food and drinks
- Less saliva flow which can lead to dry mouth. This can also happen as a result of advanced age and medications
Contact your dentist immediately if you are experiencing any changes to your oral health.
Tips for Seniors
Protect your teeth and gums from dental disease.