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Seniors Can Have Beautiful Smiles, Too

oday, I want to address the dental health and beautiful smiles of senior or older adults. I know there’s always a debate over at what age you can be called a “senior.” Many people wholeheartedly admit to being a senior when it’s Discount Day at Don Quijote (Daiei) or Shirokiya, but try to change the subject otherwise.

However, always remember that age is nothing to be ashamed of. Each year we add to our age means another grateful year of wisdom, experience, fun and making dreams come true. And thanks to advancements in medical technology and people taking care of themselves more, people are living longer, therefore needing their teeth longer. It’s never too late to take better care of your teeth.

Dental Health Contributes to Overall Health and Beautiful Smiles

Keeping as many of your natural teeth as possible is not only a dental issue, but also an overall health issue. Your mouth is the window to good nutritional health. What foods we can eat depends on our ability to bite and chew them. If we can’t bite foods with crunchier or firmer textures like vegetables or meats, we potentially limit the full nutritional value of what we ingest. This in turn may lead to negative health consequences. Optimum oral health care – along with maintenance and education – is the key for seniors to maintain their teeth and their natural smiles.

Some Obstacles to Seniors’ Beautiful Smiles

Tooth Decay. Yes, tooth decay can still be a problem for the senior patient. Many seniors did not have the benefit of fluoridated water or fluoride supplements while they were growing up. Consequently, these people have many dental restorations. Having a “filling” makes you that much more susceptible, at any time, to having recurrent decay form around these restorations.

Root Decay. This is another type of tooth decay common in older people. The American Dental Association states the majority of people over age 50 have root decay. Generally, this type of decay will occur in adults whose gums have receded so much as to expose the root surfaces of teeth. Because the root surface is softer than enamel, root decay can form easier and faster than you think.

Brushing and flossing regularly will help to address tooth decay. In addition, ask your dentist if a fluoride rinse or gel would be of additional benefit to you.

Periodontal Disease. If you haven’t known already, periodontal or gum disease is the major cause of tooth loss in adults. Since the prevalence and severity increases with age, the senior patient is at a higher risk than normal of getting gum disease. Periodontal disease starts with plaque, a sticky, colorless layer of bacteria, that forms on your teeth between brushing. As we age, plaque can build-up at an even faster rate and greater amount. If not removed thoroughly, it hardens into tartar or calculus, which irritates the gums. This may cause gums to pull away from the teeth. If untreated, eventually bone level around the affected teeth may recede or lower, resulting in loose teeth.

Initial warning signs to watch for include gums that are red, swollen, or bleeding, and bad breath. Again, your part in preventing gum disease is brushing and flossing your teeth to remove plaque. The second part is periodic professional cleanings to remove the hard calculus from your teeth.

Dry Mouth. Frequently considered an age-related condition, dry mouth or xerostomia may also result from taking certain medications such as antihistamines, pain killers and decongestants. This decrease in the flow of saliva can cause an increase in cavities. Normally, saliva plays a major role in rinsing away food particles and neutralizing acids. Dry mouth puts you at a higher risk of having recurrent tooth decay. Talk to your dentist about your situation, as there are ways to increase saliva flow, including sugar-free candy and oral rinses.

See Your Dentist Periodically, and Your Cosmetic Dentist When the Time is Right

Professional Dental Visits. Having periodic professional cleanings and oral examinations at your dentist’s office will ensure that problems are addressed early on, while the most conservative solution is still possible. These appointments will also ensure that proper home care regimen is prescribed for your current situation. Even if you have a full denture or only a few teeth, be sure to talk to your dentist about how often to schedule a check-up.

Knowing that problems can arise in your later years makes it important for you to emphasize prevention now. Many of the problems mentioned above can be corrected if you see your dentist within a reasonable period of time. Also, consider that with certain dental concerns there may exist a window of treatment opportunity now that may not be available later.

For example, if you are considering having dental implants (titanium screws placed in the jaw bone, to which restorations are attached) to replace a missing tooth or teeth, the time to talk with your dentist is now. Although you may be thinking you are able to tolerate your situation for now and maybe in five or ten years you’ll consider implants, your body may not agree with your plans. Your overall health and the specifics of your oral health, such as sufficient bone level, factor into the success rate or even the consideration to place dental implants. These may change between how you are now and how you’ll be later. Therefore it’s always wise to talk with your dentist, not only about your immediate needs, but also your long term needs.

Practicing good dental home care rituals and having regular dental check-ups is certainly a step in the right direction for maintaining your dental health in your senior years. Remember that it’s never too late to start good oral health habits. Even if you have spent years with less than ideal habits, tomorrow is a new day. It may seem overwhelming or bothersome, but little by little if you incorporate good dental health habits into your everyday routine, it will be second nature before you know it. Preserving your natural teeth and healthy gums is essential to your overall health, well-being and smile, especially in your senior years.

Dr. Wynn Okuda is an award winning international leader in cosmetic dentistry. He is one of only 280 dentists in the world to be accredited by the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry (AACD). Dr. Okuda turned the dental profession on its head nearly a decade ago, replacing pain, fear, & discomfort with the Dental Day Spa system. His offices for cosmetic, restorative and implant dentistry are located in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Dr. Okuda has been featured in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Reader’s Digest, American Spa, Shape Magazine, Better Homes & Garden, Health & Fitness Sports Magazine, New Woman, and dozens more!

Dr. Okuda is the founder of “Give Back A Smile,” a charitable foundation of the AACD which helps survivors of domestic violence throughout the nation to restore their smiles and lives. He has assembled nearly 1,000 cosmetic dentists nationwide to help fight against domestic violence.