1. “If it isn’t broken, don't fix it.” There is often little or no pain associated with early stage oral cancer, problems with tooth pulp, and gum disease.
2. “Tooth loss is a normal part of aging.” While tooth decay does increase with age there are many people who reach old age with all of their original teeth so tooth loss is not automatic. If you have taken good care of your teeth all of your life then you have a much greater chance of retaining your teeth even into your later years than someone who has neglected theirs. Tooth loss is usually caused by a condition of the gums (periodontal disease) which is the loss of connective tissue and bone that support the teeth. Gum disease starts before you can see it, usually from lack of regular dental care and poor dental hygiene. Tooth loss can be prevented or reduced through education, early diagnosis, and regular dental care.
3. “Bleeding gums are normal.” Gum disease often happens during the aging process. It can result in swollen gums that bleed even while you brush your teeth. Loss of teeth can occur when food is trapped between the teeth and gums in tiny pockets. You might be tempted to brush your teeth as vigorously as you can but gums are made of delicate tissue, so brushing harder could actually damage your gums. If you have periodontal disease, you should seek treatment to avoid tooth loss.
Three Simple Solutions to Mitigate these Issues
1. Brush and floss. It is best to brush with an extra soft to soft tooth brush and paste. Be sure to brush your teeth, gum line, and tongue thoroughly after every meal. Flossing every day gets rid of debris that tooth brushes can’t reach and is essential to good dental hygiene.
2. Electric tooth brushes and irrigators. Electric tooth brushes are often easier for senior citizens to handle and are very effective in cleaning teeth. Irrigators remove debris from teeth that tooth brushes can miss but can also damage gums if it pushes food particles into gum pockets.
3. Rinse. As the flow of saliva is reduced with age, it’s more likely that food particles will damage your teeth and gums. Rinsing gets rid of these particles. Since some mouth washes are irritating to the gums, dilute it if necessary.
Dr. Lily Ling received her DMD from Tufts Dental School and completed an advanced education in general dentistry (AEGD) residency at UConn Health Center.