A thousand years ago, human life expectancy was not even close to what it is in 2015. There have been so many advances in medicine, that a baby born today can be expected to live well into their eighties or even nineties. With that in mind, we need to talk about teeth. Adult teeth start to come in around age 6, and by age 13 most of us have a full set of permanent teeth (minus the wisdom teeth). After a few decades, teeth can begin to show their age. Here is some advice how you can keep smiling until 120.
As we age so do our parents, and it is important to know what devices they have in their mouth. As an example, a woman called the office one day, absolutely frantic. She was out to lunch with her mother when moms’ front tooth snapped off, and she swallowed it. We told her to come right in. Mom sat down in the chair, and when asked about her front tooth, promptly pulled her denture out of her mouth. Her daughter had no idea she wore one, and mom had dementia so she was not taking the denture out of her mouth and caring for it properly. It was not only full of food and debris, but she had a yeast infection in her mouth as a result. Any removable appliance, such as dentures or partials, must be taken out at night and cleaned. If you are a caregiver, this is something that can easily be missed.
With all the medications older adults take nowadays, a common side effect is xerostomia, or dry mouth. Saliva is a necessary component to wash away food particles and debris. When the amount of saliva is decreased, plaque can stick to the teeth and lead to more cavities. To combat dry mouth, we recommended and over the counter mouth lubricant, such as Biotene. It may also be necessary to brush more often or to rinse with water after meals if brushing is not possible. The key is to clear food from the mouth so it does not stick to teeth.
BRUSH AND FLOSS!! In a poll, the American Dental Association discovered that people brush for an average of 45 seconds a day. The recommended time is 2-3 minutes, twice a day. Just think of the amount of time you spend eating each day. How can you keep your teeth clean by brushing for only 45 seconds? Just the simple act of actually timing how long you brush for or getting an electric toothbrush with a built in timer will do wonders for the health of your mouth. Older patients or those with a lack of dexterity would also benefit from a waterpik, which removes material from between the teeth, instead of floss.
Of course, the most important way to keep aging mouths healthy is to see your dentist on a regular basis. Even those with full dentures must be seen at least once a year to make sure their appliance fits properly and there are no problems.
By Rachel Jacobs, DMD