American baby boomers are now reaching retirement age—and many can look forward to enjoying a longer life expectancy than ever before. According to the U.S. Social Security Administration, a 65-year-old male can expect to live, on average, 19 more years; for a woman, the number is over 21. As our population ages, we are becoming more aware of the special health needs of seniors… not only in terms of treating diseases, but also in recognizing the value of prevention. Dentistry is one area where the benefits of prevention are well understood—and this applies just as much to seniors as to younger people.
So if you thought cavities were mainly a problem for your grandchildren—it’s time to think again.
According to the National Institutes of Health, dental caries (tooth decay) remains the most prevalent chronic disease in seniors… even though it is largely preventable. Tooth decay can cause many health issues, including pain, problems with eating, and social difficulties. If left untreated, it may lead to tooth loss and systemic infection, and could result in a cascade of negative effects on overall health.
Why would some older folks be more prone to decay? There are several possible reasons. Many didn’t fully benefit from preventive dental care when they were younger, meaning that they may have more fillings and restorations than younger people. These old fillings, bridgework, crowns and other restorations can become a focus for resurgent tooth decay.
Another issue is periodontal (gum) disease. A common malady of seniors, this disease often causes the gums to recede, which exposes more of the tooth’s root surface (and makes a person look “long in the tooth”). More exposed tooth surface means more area open to possible decay—and decay is more likely, because the root surfaces of teeth have less protective covering than the upper surfaces (crowns) do.
A lack of sufficient saliva is an issue for many older people. Dry mouth can be caused by certain diseases, and it can also be a side effect of certain medications or medical treatments (such as radiation or chemotherapy). Compounding these problems, many seniors are dealing with issues of reduced mobility due to arthritis or other conditions. This can make it more difficult to keep up a good oral hygiene routine, as it becomes harder to brush and floss effectively.
What can be done? Regular visits to the dentist, of course, are vital in the fight against tooth decay. Your dentist not only can diagnose and treat any current problems—he or she can also assess your risk for future cavities, and help you develop a plan to fight them effectively. For many people, a fluoride mouthwash may be part of the plan.
Using a fluoride mouthwash can have several benefits. Fluoride is a naturally occurring mineral that strengthens the hard outer surfaces of teeth. This helps protect them against cavities, and can even reverse very early decay. Because the liquid is circulated through the entire mouth, it doesn’t depend on a brush to reach every tooth surface. Like natural saliva, mouthwash helps keep oral tissues moist and spreads beneficial fluoride all over.
Your dentist can help you decide whether using fluoride mouthwash is right for your individual situation. In some cases, a little help can go a long way; for others, additional preventive therapies, such as topical varnishes or other treatments, may be recommended. But whichever the case, the goal is the same: to keep your mouth healthy, and preserve your natural teeth for life. To learn more call one of our :DP AtYourService Customer Care Representatives at 1-800-238-5163.