Healthy Smile: As I Get Older, What Are My Dental Concerns?

by Jeffrey Gross, DDS, FAGD of The Healthy Smile

I saw a patient this week who sought a new dentist as her former dentist retired. She has permanent bridges in her mouth as well as two partial dentures. The partial dentures are very worn and very old. She came to me to put some new life into these tooth replacements. When I examined her, I discovered some serious decay destroying one of her permanent bridges. The decay changed my entire approach to her treatment. I thought that I would spend this column talking about the problems that I see as we age.

The natural process of aging takes a toll on your mouth as well as the rest of your body. Seniors are at risk for several oral health problems. Many seniors have a hard time keeping their teeth pearly white. Why? Dentin (the tooth’s middle layer) ages over time. It holds stains more than younger dentin. After a lifetime of consuming stain-causing food and beverages, it is harder for the teeth to fight off the stain.

Dental plaque builds up faster as the years go by. Some people have limited dexterity and it is very hard for them to brush and floss in general. This leads to periodontal disease. There are many oral health aids on the market such as flossers, floss picks, and water picks that can help prevent this.

Your gums naturally recede over time, and this exposes the roots of the teeth which in turn causes tooth sensitivity to hot and cold. There are many sensitivity types of toothpaste available to help with this issue. The exposed roots are vulnerable to tooth decay as well. Decay on the roots was the cause of my patient’s problems.

Some seniors suffer from a reduced salivary flow, either as a side effect of a medical condition or medication. Saliva is needed to wash away food and neutralize plaque acids. If there is a reduced amount of saliva, your teeth are not getting cleaned properly, and that will lead to tooth decay.

Those who wear dentures can get denture-induced stomatitis. This is an infection of the gums, caused by the fungus Candida Albicans, in the area that is covered by the denture. It happens when someone wears an ill-fitting denture, or by wearing a denture that is not thoroughly cleaned. That is one of the main reasons I recommend changing a denture every 5-7 years. Also, remove your denture nightly to give your gums a rest, and make sure to clean them thoroughly. After all, you don’t sleep in your shoes. Why would you sleep in your denture? A denture needs to be brushed with a denture brush or soaked in a denture solution at night to maintain cleanliness.

Let’s return to our patient and plan out her treatment. She told me that she did not want to wear a full denture. This set the tone for her treatment on a path to keep as many teeth as possible. After removing the decayed teeth and failing bridge, I recommended a couple of dental implants to take the stress off the remaining teeth and allow them to last for a lifetime. Reworking her partial dentures around the teeth and implants gives her a new lease on life.

So, whether you have all of your teeth, some of them or none of them, your mouth like any other part of your body needs to be assessed and looked at to maintain optimum health. Please call me at 440.892.1810. I will do my best to advise you and direct you on the path to a lifetime of oral wellness. I look forward to meeting you.

Jeffrey Gross, DDS, FAGD is an Ohio licensed general dentist and is on the staff of Case Western Reserve School of Dental Medicine.

The Healthy Smile • 27239 Wolf Road, Bay Village, OH 44140 • 440-892-1810 •

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