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5 Common Dental Problems in Seniors

Just as you deal with an increasing number of physical health problems as you get older, your mouth faces a few age-related challenges as well. But just because you’re more susceptible to dental issues, that doesn’t mean they’re inevitable. In fact, there’s a lot seniors can do to prevent oral problems.

Lisa Wyatt, DDS, at Metairie Village Dentistry in Metairie, Louisiana, cares for patients of all ages, and she understands the unique challenges seniors face as their teeth get older. It helps to know what factors might affect your oral health, so you can either avoid them or mitigate the effects. 

Here are five of the most common dental problems we see in patients over age 60 and what you can do about them if they happen to you. 

1. Dry mouth

Saliva protects your mouth and teeth from bacteria, but a lot of older people lack enough saliva to keep bacteria at bay, so they end up with cavities. Although certain medical conditions, such as Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, and stroke, can contribute to dry mouth, the most common culprit is medication. 

There are more than 500 medications that list dry mouth as a side effect, including those that treat hypertension, depression, and anxiety. Even many over-the-counter drugs, such as antihistamines, pain relievers, and decongestants, can reduce your saliva production.

Talk to your physician about changing your prescription if it’s causing dry mouth. Dr. Wyatt may also suggest using rinses and mouthwashes to lubricate your mouth or taking medications to stimulate saliva production. Meanwhile, you should drink lots of water every day to keep your mouth moist and to flush away bacteria.

2. Gum disease

About two-thirds of Americans over age 65 suffer from gum disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In the early stages of gum disease — which is called gingivitis — you may not even know you have it, as the symptoms can be mild and sometimes nonexistent. Symptoms of gingivitis can include gums that are red and swollen and that bleed easily. 

As gum disease advances, it’s called periodontal disease. When it reaches this stage, your gums can pull away from your teeth, which can lead to bone and tooth loss.

To avoid getting gum disease, you should have a good oral hygiene routine and get regular checkups. If you do get gum disease, we can provide treatment, such as deep cleaning the roots of your teeth and providing antibiotics to fight off bacterial infections. 

If you need surgery to repair the damage, we may use laser dentistry. Rather than drills, laser dentistry uses precise beams of light to treat teeth and gum tissue. Laser dentistry provides for a more comfortable, less painful experience.

3. Tooth decay and tooth loss

The roots of aging teeth can soften, and gums can recede to expose previously enclosed tissue to harmful bacteria. You may also have fillings that have been in place for years and are now allowing bacteria to creep in around the edges and enter your teeth. 

Minor tooth decay may only need a filling to solve the problem, but if it reaches the root, you may need a root canal to clear away the dead and infected tissue. In this case, Dr. Wyatt caps your cleaned-out tooth with a crown.

If you have severe decay, you may lose the tooth. But leaving a gap can present a slew of dental challenges, including alignment problems, chewing and speaking issues, bacteria buildup, and bone loss. To resolve this, Dr. Wyatt offers dental implants. Implants replace missing teeth, and they feel, function, and look just like natural teeth.

4. Discoloration

A lifetime of smoking, chewing tobacco, or consuming stain-causing foods and drinks can cause discoloration. Furthermore, tooth enamel can thin with age, which can allow the yellow dentin underneath to show through.

We can wipe away superficial stains and brighten your enamel with the Zoom!® teeth whitening system, which uses a hydrogen-peroxide-based gel. You may see a big difference after just one visit. And for teeth that have discoloration that isn’t superficial, we can provide veneers, which are thin, tooth-colored shells that are bonded to the fronts of your teeth.

5. Sleep apnea

Sleep disorders are prevalent among the elderly, with 50% of people over age 65 reporting some type of chronic sleep problem. Among them is sleep apnea, which causes breathing to stop and start throughout the night. 

Depending on your symptoms, Dr. Wyatt may treat your sleep apnea with an oral device that repositions your jaw and tongue to keep your airway clear. In some cases, she may recommend treatment with the Fotona® NightLase® laser. This painless, noninvasive treatment can tighten oral tissues that block the airway.

These are just a few of the dental issues you may face as you age. The good news is that most oral health problems can be prevented with regular dental care. To stay in control of your dental health, book an appointment online or over the phone with Metairie Village Dentistry today.

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