Cavities: Not Just for Kids, Older Adults Also at Risk
You may think cavities are child’s play. But tooth decay is actually the most common chronic disease among those ages 65 and older.
Among the 95 percent of older adults who still have teeth, more than nine out of 10 have cavities. This includes about one-fourth who haven’t received treatment for their decay.
Reasons Seniors Live at Risk
Changes in your mouth as you age make cavities more likely. For instance, you may not produce as much saliva as you used to, a condition known as dry mouth. Many medications can contribute to dry mouth. When the bacteria that live in plaque come in contact with sugar or starch from the food we eat, they release acids that over time can cause cavities. Saliva also helps neutralize these acids, so dry mouth is a double-whammy when it comes to decay.
In addition, if you grew up before fluoride use was widespread, you might have more cavities already. New decay often occurs around the edges of older fillings.
As you age, your gums may recede from your teeth or you may have periodontal (gum) disease. This exposes the roots of your teeth to plaque as well. Many people older than age 50 have tooth-root decay.
Cavities: A Preventable Condition
You never outgrow good oral health. Here’s how to protect your teeth in your golden years.
- About one-fourth of adults ages 65 and older haven’t been to the dentist in the past five years. Don’t be one of them — visit regularly for check-ups and cleanings. If you have a lot of cavities, your dentist or hygienist may apply or recommend additional fluoride treatments.
- Brush your teeth gently, at least twice a day, with fluoride toothpaste. Pay special attention to the gum line. If you have a hard time holding the toothbrush because of arthritis or another condition, try sliding a bicycle grip or foam tube over the handle. Or lengthen it by attaching it to a ruler or tongue depressor. Electric toothbrushes may be easier to use if you have problems with dexterity.
- Floss at least once every day. Ask your dentist or hygienist about special floss holders that might help if your movements are limited.
- Avoid frequent snacking on sugary or starchy foods. These foods feed the bacteria that cause tooth decay.
- Ask your dentist about an antibacterial mouth rinse to reduce the numbers of cavity causing bacteria.
- Watch for signs of periodontal disease. See your dentist right away if your gums are pulled back from your teeth, red, swollen, or tender, or if they bleed when you brush; if your teeth are loose or are moving apart; or if you notice changes in your bite.