What happens to your teeth when you get older?

As we age, we start to experience all kinds of oral health issues. So it’s important to give our teeth and gums extra care and attention to keep them healthy in our later years.

While things have improved greatly from 100 years ago, when full dentures were a foregone conclusion, the majority of older Australians nowadays are still experiencing higher rates of gum disease, tooth loss, tooth decay, oral infections and gum recession than the rest of the population.

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More wear and tear

Our teeth are made up of some of hardest substances in our bodies. Nevertheless, they wear down from decades of biting, chewing and grinding. The part of the tooth that wears down the most is the hard outer layer called tooth enamel. If your enamel is too thin, your sensitivity to hot or cold foods will increase. Your molars also tend to gradually flatten out over time.

You can minimise further damage by avoiding hard foods that can chip, fracture or even break weakened teeth. Watch out for sugary, acidic foods and drinks that can further erode and damage your teeth. If you have teeth grinding issues (bruxism), see your dentist about wearing a night guard when you sleep at night.

Tooth discolouration

Your teeth get darker in colour with age. This happens with a gradual build-up of stains on tooth enamel from food and drinks. Another cause of tooth discolouration is changes to dentin inside your tooth which can turn yellow with age.

It’s best to consult your dentist before deciding on the most effective whitening treatment for your situation.

Gum disease and receding gums

The old expression “long in the tooth” equated with someone who is wise, but in reality it is an indication of receding gums. Receding gums are caused by gum disease (periodontitis) as the condition penetrates deeper into your gums and separates them from your teeth.

As your gums recede, they expose your non-enameled tooth roots which become vulnerable to tooth decay and loss of bone. Your teeth may become looser without the proper support from your gums, and eventually fall out.

It’s not all bad news though. Gum disease can be treated with scaling, root planing and/or antibiotics by your dentist. But better sooner than later – gum recession is irreversible and does not grow back.

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Dry mouth

Dry mouth is caused by reduced saliva flow which can occur with age, during sleep and as a side effect of medication. Actually, there are 100s of medications that state dry mouth as a side-effect. Certain medical treatments, such as chemotherapy, can also affect your saliva glands and reduce saliva flow.

Without the protective effects of saliva, your teeth are significantly more prone to decay and cavities. Additionally, you’ll find it more difficult to chew, swallow and digest dry food. Your oral tissues will become more irritated, and at higher risk of infection.

If you have a dry mouth condition (Xerostomia), consult with your dentist about artificial saliva products that may improve your dry mouth. And don’t forget to stay hydrated.

Arthritis, poor memory and poor eyesight

Having any of these conditions may make it harder to maintain a proper oral care and hygiene routine:

  • Arthritis makes it harder to handle a toothbrush and brush your teeth effectively.
  • Poor memory might result in you forgetting to brush your teeth on occasion.
  • Poor eyesight can make it more difficult for you to see what you are brushing.

Consult with your dentist about ergonomically handled toothbrushes or electric toothbrushes that can make it easier to brush your teeth.