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…But it Can Be Very Hard on You. Several things happen to our mouths as we get older. This is a fact that I know all to well as a dentist. I have struggled to help aging patient maintain their teeth and therefore their dignity. Money sometimes is a problem that stands between a patient and ideal dental health, but some times money is no object and yet ideal dental health cannot be achieved because of the changes that occur in an Old mouth.
The first of these changes is likely to happen as you age happens when you or your spouse retires. For most people when they retire they loose their dental insurance shortly there after. Making sure that you plan for your oral health well before you retire can make a big difference. Most dental insurances pay a yearly maximum of $1000. In many cases this only restores one tooth. This has been the same benefit since dental insurance was invented in the 1970’s. Yet I assure you that the cost of a gallon of gas much less a crown or filling has not stayed the same since the 1970’s. Point is if you have very much work to be done in your mouth and you want dental insurance to pay the maximum toward your dental care you better give yourself more than one year to get it all done.
Another thing to prepare for is life without dental insurance. Weather or not you have teeth you need to budget a yearly expense toward maintaining your teeth (natural or artificial). You should talk to your dentist about the annual cost for cleaning, x-rays and exams. If you have dentures you should be aware that they do not last for ever and usually require refitting or remaking at some interval. Heck even dental insurance companies will pay for a new denture every 5 years. Plan for it!
The second thing that affects the mouth as we age is gum disease or Periodontal Disease. It affects about 75% of the American population and those over 60 make up the bulk of those affected. The signs and symptoms of gum disease include but are not limited to: bleeding when you brush, red swollen guns, bad breath, receding gums, and plaque and tarter on your teeth. The results of gum disease go unnoticed most of the time but include: tooth or gum pain, infection, gingival recession, bone loss and tooth loss. Now the effects of gum disease cannot be easily reversed but it is very important to keep the factors that cause gum disease at bay. This requires that you get your teeth cleaned at least twice a year. IF you have not been to the dentist in quite a while, it is quite likely that your cleaning will be more involved and require more follow up to correct years of abuse and neglect. So plan for it budget some time and money to up keep what you have.
The gingival recession caused by gum disease puts your teeth at risk of root caries or cavities on the root of you teeth. The roots of your teeth were designed to be covered by bone and gums. When they are exposed to the oral environment they do not fare well. Root caries can be hard to detect, progress very rapidly and be very hard to fix. This three headed dragon makes root caries the arch nemesis of dentist everywhere. Gum grafts and bone grafts are the best ways to treat receding gums, but some times enough damage has been done that it cannot be reversed.
The third thing that effects the aging mouth is your medications. The average 60 year old patient is taking 5 medications. Many of those medications have the side effect called dry mouth. As it turns out a dry mouth increases you chances of getting cavities especially the aforementioned root caries. Saliva is the natural buffer for the acids produced in your mouth by the bacteria that cause cavities. Classes of medications that cause a dry mouth include many high blood pressure medicines, asthma medications and antihistamines. Other things that decrease the amount of saliva a person makes are aging, smoking, mouth breathing, immune disorders and cancer treatments. The best ways to prevent root caries is the use of supplementary fluoride treatments, good oral hygiene and regular dental cleanings and exams.
Certain diseases become more prevalent in older generations. One such disease in Diabetes. Diabetes affects your mouth in several ways. Most importantly changes the way your body fights infections and makes the diabetic patient more at risk. Gum disease is a chronic infection of the gums. The presence of gum disease often makes diabetes worse and the presence of diabetes definitely makes gum disease worse. Gum disease often results in gingival recession, those exposed roots are at an increase risk of getting a cavity that is hard to detect, progresses rapidly and can be very hard to fix. It is a vicious cycle.
The last thing that affects the aging mouth is just that. It is getting older everything in it is getting older. Every tooth, filling, and crown is getting older. The expected lifespan of a filling is 10 years, a crown is maybe 20 years. Some last longer, some not so long. There are many factors that affect how long a restoration last in a particular patients mouth so ask your dentist about your mouth. The important thing to remember as we live longer more of our dental work will have to be redone and replaced!
Yes getting older is inevitable, but it is also manageable. Forty years ago (and perhaps still today) getting all your teeth pulled before you got too old was a popular notion. Some of those patients are still alive and dealing with the ramifications of that decision. It does not have to be that way. With a little knowledge and preparation you can take your teeth with you to the grave.
IF you have questions or concerns please feel free to call Dr. Seume at Hitchcock Dental at 409-986-6018
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Getting Old is Easy…..