old ageOnly a few generations ago, older people regularly lost many, most, or even all of their teeth. Dentures were commonplace, and most people considered them inevitable. Fortunately, better and more regular dental care as well as fluoride in water and toothpaste have lessened gradual decay and minimized cavities for much of the population. Older people can still have healthy and effective teeth for their entire lives now.

This is important for several reasons. First, oral health and general health are linked. So much bacteria enters the body through the mouth. If people do not try to fight bacterial plaque with regular brushing and flossing, it can cause problems in other parts of the body. The reverse is also true. For instance, poorly managed diabetes can be disastrous for oral health. Older people should make sure to keep their doctors and their dentists informed about any health complications they experience. Remember that dental exams and x-rays can reveal growths or systemic problems and function as early tests for other conditions or diseases.

Secondly, tooth loss and worsening nutrition are also linked. People who lose teeth will necessarily choose to eat softer food, but not necessarily softer foods that are healthy. Good teeth allow for chewing through protein-rich meats and crunchy vegetables, choices that will enrich the diet and strengthen the body. People with a preference for a varied diet of many, delicious foods have another incentive to take care of their teeth.

Older people may associate getting cavities with childhood, but cavities are possible at any stage in life. Good habits and regular dental care are always appropriate. What’s more as people age, their bodies change. Their sensitivity to pain may alter and cause them to wait too long to see a dentist, necessitating more extensive and expensive dental options to fix what might have been simple cavities. Regular cleanings and x-rays as preventative care pay off over time.

Medications can also have unexpected effects like dry mouth. Cancer treatments will often result in dry mouth. Any change in the environment of the mouth will affect the bacteria there, and the last thing older people with medical challenges want is an explosion of bacteria in the body. People with dry mouth need to be careful about what they drink to combat it too. Sipping sodas or other sugary drinks will make matters worse. Water is always a better choice.

Maintaining your teeth into old age doesn’t have to be difficult or painful. If you have any questions about your oral health and how it is affected by any health conditions you have or medications you are taking, discuss them with your dentist at your next dental cleaning. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!