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Oral issues to be aware of as we age

As our bodies age we undergo various changes which can sometimes lead to new health problems. Your mouth is no exception, although many people are not aware of the toll of time on their oral health until something drastic has happened. This is why we’ve summarised all the changes in your mouth that you should be aware of as you age.

Enamel wear

The daily chewing on your teeth with forces of up to 35kg will inevitably cause stress, fractures and structural break down in the enamel of the teeth after many years. This protective outer layer of the teeth becomes irreversibly eroded away with everyday use.

Factors that expedite this wear include:

- chewing nails or other hard things like pens

- grinding your teeth, clenching your jaw. We can fit a mouthguard you can wear while sleeping to protect your teeth.

- playing contact sports without a mouthguard.

- acidic foods and beverages eg fruit juices, citrus fruits, alcohol and fizzy drinks cause enamel erosion as the acids eat away at the protective layer. Use a fluoride mouthwash after acidic foods to remineralise the enamel.

Dry mouth

The mouth tends to feel dry, either due to reduced salivary gland function or due to medications.

Consult with your GP about whether your dry mouth is due to the side effects of medication you are taking and whether alternative medicines are available.

Frequent sips of water and rinsing the water around the mouth can help keep the tissues in the mouth hydrated and simulate the natural cleansing effects of salivary flow.

Onset of gum disease

Gum disease affects 90% of the population and if left unchecked over the years, the damage can accumulate to gum recession, loosening teeth , gum boils and loss of the teeth.

If gums recede far enough, the roots of the teeth can become exposed past where the tooth enamel naturally covers. This exposed root surface is more vulnerable and any bacteria that would naturally build could cause decay much easier, which results in cavities. Brushing lightly at the gum margins is important to avoid causing further recession. Couple this technique with fluoridated toothpaste and an enamel enhancing oral rinse frequently during the day to prevent root decay.

Leaving gum wounds, inflammation or bleeding to fester or go unchecked is another way to compromise your oral health. If something doesn’t feel right, always make an appointment for a checkup with your dentist right away and seek counsel to ensure that gum recession is not due to a larger health issue.

Oral cancer risks

People have an increased risk of cancer as they age regardless of the following factors which are well known:

  • Tobacco use of any kind, including cigarettes, cigars, pipes, chewing tobacco and snuff, among others

  • Heavy alcohol use

  • Previous cancer diagnosis

  • History of significant sun exposure, which increases the risk of lip cancer

Most dentists perform an examination of your mouth during a routine dental visit to screen for oral cancer. Early detection is paramount to increasing the survival rate of any subsequent treatments in case of a positive diagnosis.

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