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What happens to our teeth and gums as we age? Reduce wear and tear

By: Julie Ann Soukoulis
August 24, 2018
Navigating the aging journey

As we get older, everyday wear and tear takes a toll on our teeth. Good thing there’s plenty we can do to keep them in great shape. The good news is that our teeth are really strong. Even so, they can be worn down. The result of years of chewing, grinding and biting means wearing away of the outer enamel. It also flattens the parts you use when you bite and chew.

You can’t erase a lifetime of wear and tear. However, having it restored by a dentist can help keep it from getting worse. Don’t chew ice or other hard foods. That can cause chips in your enamel and even broken teeth.

Teeth can also have a poor bite, causing orthodontic work, or nighttime grinding (bruxism), which requires wearing a night guard.

Keeping the gums healthy

A bacteria called plaque is always forming on our teeth. If we don’t remove it, it causes soreness, swelling and bleeding in the gums. It can even cause infections that damage the bone underneath.

Your dentist will treat periodontitis if it develops. When it goes unchecked, it could harm your gums and bones. Once that happens, you may need to have teeth removed.

Signs of gum disease include:

•Bleeding when you brush your teeth

•Gums that recede, or pull back from your teeth

•Loose teeth

•Bad breath

To keep your gums in good shape - take good care of your teeth. Brush twice a day and remember to floss. See your dentist regularly for check-ups and cleanings.


Don’t let your mouth dry out

Saliva helps clean teeth and protects your mouth from decay. Unfortunately, as we age, our mouth gets drier and our chances for tooth decay goes up. Sometimes medications can be to blame. Lots of drugs can dry you out.


To fix this - drinkmore water. Hold it in your mouth for a few seconds before you swallow. You can also suck on sugarless candy or chew sugarless gum. If you think drugs are the cause, talk to your doctor about changing them.


Be kind to sensitive teeth

Worn down enamel, gum problems and tooth decay are all things that lead to making your teeth more sensitive. For an elder it can hurt when you drink something hot or cold or even when you brush your teeth a little too hard.

Good dental care is the best prevention. Brush, floss and see your dentist regularly. If you have sensitive teeth, your dentist can recommend a toothpaste or in-office treatment that will make you more comfortable.


Watch out for acid

Fizzy drinks and citrus fruits and juices all contain acid. Sugary and starchy foods cause your mouth to make acid. Each of these wears away the enamel on your teeth.

Don’t swish these drinks around in your mouth. Follow it up with milk or cheese to “cancel out” the acid. Eat sugary and starchy foods with your main meals, not as snacks. That’s when your mouth makes the most saliva to help wash acid away


Always be on alert for cancer

As you age, there’s a small chance you could develop cancer of your mouth, throat, tongue or lips. The best way to prevent this is to stop smoking and drink alcohol only in moderation. Also - use lip balm with sunscreen whenever you go outside.

Pain isn’t a symptom early on, so you need to see your dentist regularly for checkups. Your dentist can look for any problems and treat them early. Warning signs may include sores, red or white patches, and any long-lasting changes in your mouth.

Becoming an elder does not necessarily mean full sets of dentures or toothy gaps in our smile. But it does mean extra care is needed to prevent issues that can cause your mouth to become sore. Our teeth will become looser and our gums will recede, which means more caution will be needed when we chew.

Julie Ann Soukoulis is the owner of Home Instead Senior care office in Rohnert Park, mother of two and passionate about healthy living at all ages. Having cared for her own two parents, she understands your struggles and aims, through her website, to educate and encourage seniors & caregivers. Have a caregiving or aging concern? She’d love to hear from you at 586-1516 anytime.