Posted on: 18 August, 2023
Good oral health is important for overall health and wellbeing.
5 minute read
Oral health problems such as tooth decay and gum disease affect people of all ages, but the accumulation of bacteria and a history of medical and dental problems across a lifetime mean they become increasingly likely with age.
The latest National Study of Oral Health 2017-18 found that Australians aged 55-74 years have on average 19.4 decayed, missing or filled teeth, increasing to 24.4 problem teeth for those aged 75 and over. Oral diseases such as gum disease and mouth cancers are also more prevalent with age.
The good news is that most oral health problems are preventable when you maintain a good oral hygiene routine and attend regular dental visits. Read this guide to understand the most common oral health issues that affect adults 65 years and over, how they can be treated and prevented, and the best ways to keep your teeth and gums healthy for life.
Tooth decay is caused by bacteria that can build up on the teeth and form plaque without effective brushing and flossing. These bacteria release acids that wear down tooth enamel, which can eventually lead to cavities and possible infection.
The rate of tooth decay increases with age. The average number of teeth affected by decay was found to increase from 4.1 teeth in Australians aged 15-34 to 10.3 teeth for 35-54 year olds, 19.4 teeth for 55-74 year olds and 24.4 teeth in people aged 75 and older.
Tooth decay can be prevented or reduced by improving your oral hygiene. If you already have cavities, these may require fillings or other restorations. Root canal treatment may be needed if decay reaches the soft tissue in the centre of the tooth. A root canal is similar to having a filling placed, except the cleaning is done on the inside of the tooth.
To ensure your comfort, our dentists at EVP Dental can apply numbing gel and local anaesthesia to help numb the area prior to treatment.
Bacteria in plaque can also affect the gums. The first stage of gum disease is gingivitis, which can cause the gums to look red or swollen and may cause them to bleed when you brush and floss your teeth.
If gingivitis is left untreated, it can develop into more severe periodontitis. This advanced stage of gum disease can lead to receding gums and tooth loss. It can also increase your risk of developing other serious medical conditions, including heart disease and diabetes.
As bacteria and other risk factors accumulate over time, gum disease becomes more common and more severe with age. The National Study of Oral Health found that more than half of older Australians have moderate or severe gum disease, affecting 51% of 55-74 year olds and 69% of those aged 75 and over.
The early stages of gum disease can be reversed with hygiene maintenance appointments and by improving your brushing and flossing habits at home. More advanced gum disease cannot be reversed and will require periodontal treatment that involves scaling and root planning to remove infected gum tissue.
With more widespread understanding of oral hygiene and access to fluoride, Australians are keeping more of their teeth into old age than ever before, but the number of missing teeth naturally tends to increase with age. Australians over 75 were found to have an average of 13.2 missing teeth.
Teeth can be lost for many reasons across a lifetime, whether as a result of advanced oral health disease, medical conditions or accidental injuries. The more teeth are missing, the more likely this is to cause problems, such as difficulty eating, speaking and jaw bone deterioration. Almost half of Australians over 75 (46%) have fewer than 21 teeth remaining, with 21% having lost all of their teeth.
However many teeth you're missing, your dentist can discuss your suitability for teeth replacement options using natural-looking dental implants, a fixed bridge or removable dentures to restore the appearance and function of your smile.
If your mouth often feels dry, even when you drink plenty of water, this may be a condition known as dry mouth. This happens when glands at the back of the mouth don't produce enough saliva needed to moisten your mouth and wash away bacteria.
A persistent dry mouth can feel uncomfortable and may affect your ability to chew and swallow. It can also allow bacteria to spread, increasing your risk of developing other oral health problems.
Dry mouth is more likely to happen if you smoke or drink excessively and is a common side effect of certain medications. Dentists aim to treat dry mouth by addressing the causes, but they may also need to prescribe a medication to increase saliva production or provide a saliva substitute.
Oral cancer or mouth cancer can develop in any of the soft tissues around the mouth, including the tongue, soft palate and lips. Although these diseases can affect people of all ages, they are most likely to be diagnosed in older age groups, especially among heavy smokers and drinkers.
As with other cancers, early detection greatly improves the success rate of treatments for oral cancer. Many dental clinics now include oral cancer screenings as part of a regular dental check-up.
If it's been a while since your last dental check-up, book an appointment with one of our friendly East Victoria Park dentists today.
Oral health problems don't only affect the mouth. From affecting your ability to eat and speak properly and how you feel about your appearance to increasing your risk of serious health conditions, poor oral health has far-reaching consequences for physical and mental health.
A direct impact of missing or damaged teeth is that you may find it harder to chew certain foods. This can mean food isn't broken down enough before swallowing, which can lead to digestive disorders. If you avoid certain foods due to tooth loss, this could affect your weight or nutrition, leading to deficiencies or making existing health conditions worse.
Poor oral health can also affect the quality of your sleep, if pain or discomfort from a dental problem prevents you from relaxing. Teeth grinding or clenching (bruxism) during sleep can also lead to teeth wearing down and being more vulnerable to damage.
Aesthetic concerns associated with missing or damaged teeth can include visible gaps in the smile and a shrinking jaw or sagging skin around the mouth without the support of underlying teeth. Losing teeth may also affect speech. All of these issues can affect a person's willingness or confidence to smile.
Oral diseases such as advanced gum disease have been found to increase the risk of developing other serious medical conditions – such as diabetes, heart disease and respiratory diseases – as bacteria travel through the body in the bloodstream.
The build-up of bacteria on the teeth and mouth, as well as on dentures, can also increase the risk of developing respiratory infections such as aspiration pneumonia. The inflammatory response caused by gum disease may also cause complications with existing conditions such as diabetes or heart disease.
Natural ageing is a factor for developing oral health problems, due to the accumulation of bacteria and other risk factors over a lifetime, but that doesn't mean poor oral health has to be a part of ageing.
You will be at higher risk of problems if you:
Good preventive care at home and 6-monthly check-up and cleans will help to lower your oral health risks and keep your teeth and gums healthier for life. This may involve:
Teeth should be brushed twice a day and flossed once daily to remove leftover food and reduce plaque. It's also important to brush prosthetic teeth such as dentures and bridges to lower your risk of gum disease and bad breath.
Thorough brushing should take around 2 minutes, spending equal time cleaning all surfaces of your teeth. To avoid damaging enamel or irritating sensitive gums, use a manual toothbrush with soft bristles. Toothpaste should contain fluoride, as this helps to protect teeth against plaque.
Flossing is important for cleaning the parts of your mouth that a toothbrush can't reach. If you find standard dental floss uncomfortable or difficult to use, your dentist may recommend an alternative such as a floss holder or interdental brushes.
Sugar feeds bacteria in plaque and speeds up the process of tooth decay. You don't have to give up sugar to enjoy healthier teeth but checking product packaging and trying to limit the amount of added sugar in your diet can be beneficial for your oral health and overall health.
It's also important to drink plenty of water throughout the day, which helps to rinse food and acids from the teeth and to prevent dry mouth. Most local water supplies in Australia contain fluoride at safe levels to provide additional protection for teeth against decay.
Quitting smoking and cutting down on alcohol can significantly lower your risk of serious oral health problems, including oral cancer. You should also avoid using your teeth to bite or chew non-food objects such as pens, bottle lids, toothpicks etc. and talk to your dentist if you think you might grind or clench your teeth when you're asleep or stressed.
However well you take care of your teeth day to day, it's important to keep up with your scheduled dentist appointments, so qualified professionals can assess your oral health, screen for problems such as oral cancer (which is easier to treat when spotted early), offer advice and provide preventive hygiene treatments.
A comprehensive check-up and clean is recommended twice a year to help minimise your oral health risks.
If you're due for a check-up, or want to discuss any concerns or treatments with our local dentists, contact EVP Dental today to book an appointment at a time that suits you.
Call our friendly team on (08) 9470 3944 or book an appointment online.