By Dr. Michael Vold
Getting older can result in many changes in your physical health and well-being, including your teeth. Not only will teeth wear down over time, you may begin experiencing an increase in mouth dryness, the loss of teeth and more serious oral diseases.
A dry mouth is caused by insufficient saliva, and can make it difficult to swallow and speak. It can also lead to tooth decay. Saliva comes from three pairs of salivary glands in your body. One pair of glands is located under the tongue and another on the floor of the mouth. The third pair can be found in the cheek area, between the nose and ear.
The average amount of saliva produced every 24 hours is approximately 1.5 liters. Saliva helps eliminate food debris and neutralizes acids in the mouth, which reduces the plaque growth that leads to decay. It also minimizes the potential for gum disease.
Certain medications, fatigue and diseases such as diabetes can inhibit the production of saliva, which can result in more dental problems. One way to increase the amount of saliva in your mouth is to stimulate your salivary glands with regular and vigorous chewing. To help relieve the dryness, you can use mouthwashes or artificial saliva spray.
Your dentist will know if your tooth decay is the result of a decrease in saliva, and may recommend a medical check-up depending on the situation. Don’t forget to tell your dentist about any medications you are taking that could also be causing the dryness.
Studies show that adults between the ages of 20 to 64 typically have three or more decayed or missing teeth. Gum disease is one of the main reasons for tooth loss. Consistent brushing and flossing, as well as regular dental visits, can help prevent tooth loss. Missing teeth can also be replaced with implants, bridges and dentures.
Older adults should also be wary of the onset of diseases such as oropharyngeal cancer, which can manifest on the gums, lips, cheek lining, jaw, tongue and throat. The signs of this type of cancer include numbness, pain or tenderness in the mouth, thick or hard spots or lumps, changes in the way your teeth fit together, and rough or crusted areas.
The best way to prevent oral health problems during middle age is with proper dental hygiene and regular check-ups. You should also visit your dentist if you have any symptoms of oropharyngeal cancer. An early diagnosis of a cancerous condition is extremely important for treatment and recovery.
About Dr. Michael Vold
Dr. Michael Vold has a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Wisconsin (1963), a Doctor of Dental Surgery degree from Northwestern University Dental School (1967) and a Juris Doctor degree from DePaul University College of Law (1980). He served as a dentist in the U.S. Air Force and taught as an Assistant Professor at the University of Illinois, College of Dentistry. Dr. Vold is a member of the American Dental Association, Illinois State Dental Society, Chicago Dental Society, American College of Dentists, International College of Dentists, as well as the recipient of numerous professional honors and awards