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Frequently asked questions about dental care for older people

Teeth can last a lifetime, but they require careful maintenance over the years. Get answers to frequently asked questions about dental care for older people.

As an older person, do I really need to be concerned about cavities any more?

Actually, cavities can be more frequent in older adults for a number of reasons. Life-long exposure to fluoride through water supplies and toothpaste may not have been a possibility for some of our oldest adults as it simply wasn't available when they were growing up. Also, adults are more likely to have decay around older fillings.

Additionally, cavities in the tooth root are more common, as gum tissue begins to recede in older adults exposing the tooth root surface to decay. Also, dry mouth, resulting from the natural ageing process itself and certain medications and diseases, can lead to more tooth decay. Without an adequate amount of saliva, food particles can't be washed away and the acids produced by plaque can't be neutralised.

My teeth have suddenly become very sensitive to both hot and cold, but my mouth is otherwise healthy. What could cause this?

Receding gum tissue could be the cause of sensitivity. As gum tissue pulls back away from teeth, the root of the tooth becomes exposed. A soft tissue graft would be the recommended treatment. Other treatment suggestions might include using a fluoride mouth rinse or changing to a toothpaste made specifically for sensitive teeth.

Visit your dentist so that you can be diagnosed and treated correctly.

Can braces still be an option for an older person?

There is no age limit for correcting misaligned (crooked) teeth. The mechanical process used to move teeth is the same at any age. So the benefits of orthodontic treatments such as braces are available for both children and adults who wish to improve their appearance and bite. The main differences between treatments in adults and children is that certain corrections in adults may require more than braces alone and the treatments may take longer because adult bones are no longer growing.

Are older people more at risk of oral cancer?

Yes, the risk of oral cancer increases with age. Any lesion found on the tongue or anywhere in the mouth needs to be examined and closely monitored. Smoking and drinking alcohol is associated with oral cancer.

Is there anything that can be done to make my loose teeth more secure?

First, visit a periodontist, a dentist who specialises in diagnosing, treating and preventing diseases of the soft tissues of the mouth (the gums) and the supporting structures ( bones) of the teeth (both natural and man-made teeth). They will examine your condition, review your oral hygiene practices and discuss your medical history. Certain medical conditions, such as diabetes, can contribute to the problem of loose teeth.

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