Navigating Oral Health Through the Aging Process: Understanding Changes and Combating Challenges

Mar 27 • 3 minute read

Navigating Oral Health Through the Aging Process: Understanding Changes and Combating Challenges

As we journey through life, our bodies undergo various changes, and our oral health is no exception. Aging brings about a multitude of transformations within the body, many of which can significantly impact oral health. From a drier mouth to decreased dexterity, understanding these changes and how they affect oral health is crucial for maintaining a healthy smile. We want to explore some of the common changes that occur in the body as we age, how they can affect oral health, and provide practical tips to combat these effects.

1. Dry Mouth (Xerostomia)

One of the most common changes experienced as we age is a decrease in saliva production, leading to a condition known as dry mouth or xerostomia. Saliva plays a vital role in oral health by helping to lubricate the mouth, neutralize acids, and wash away food particles and bacteria. However, as we get older, the salivary glands may produce less saliva, resulting in your mouth feeling drier than in the past.

A dry mouth can increase the risk of tooth decay, gum disease, and oral infections. Without an adequate amount of saliva to rinse away bacteria and food particles, the mouth becomes more susceptible to plaque buildup and cavities.

Combatting Dry Mouth:

     ● Stay Hydrated: Drink plenty of water throughout the day to help keep the mouth moist.

     ● Sugar-Free Gum or Lozenges: Chewing sugar-free gum or sucking on sugar-free lozenges can stimulate saliva production. Choose products that contain 100% Xylitol. I really like Spry Gum

     ● Use Saliva Substitutes: Over-the-counter saliva substitutes or artificial saliva products can help alleviate dry mouth symptoms.

     ● Avoid Alcohol and Tobacco: Both alcohol and tobacco can contribute to dry mouth, so it's best to avoid or limit their consumption.

2. Medications and Saliva Flow

As we age, it's common for individuals to take multiple medications to manage various health conditions. However, many medications can have side effects that affect saliva production, leading to more dry mouth.

Medications that reduce saliva flow can increase the risk of dental decay, gum disease, and oral infections. Additionally, certain medications may cause changes in taste perception or contribute to oral discomfort.

Combatting Medication-Induced Dry Mouth:

     ● Consult Your Healthcare Provider: If you're experiencing dry mouth as a side effect of medication, speak with your healthcare provider. They may be able to adjust your dosage or prescribe alternative medications.

     ● Hydration: Drinking water regularly can help alleviate dry mouth symptoms caused by medication.

     ● Oral Moisturizers: Using oral moisturizing gels or sprays can help lubricate the mouth and provide relief from dryness.

     ● Regular Dental Check-ups: Schedule regular dental check-ups to monitor your oral health and address any issues that may arise due to medication side effects.

3. Decrease in Dexterity

It's natural for dexterity and motor skills to decline as we age. Arthritis can make it very difficult to do even the simplest of tasks. This can make brushing and flossing less effective thereby leaving behind plaque and food particles that contribute to dental decay and gum disease.

Combatting Decreased Dexterity:

     ● Let technology help you: Consider using electric toothbrushes or water flossers to make oral hygiene tasks easier. There are also specially designed toothbrush handles for easier grip.

     ● See your hygienist more frequently: If performing traditional brushing and flossing techniques is difficult, have the professionals help you. Increase the frequency of your cleanings from 6 months to every 4 or even 3 months to make sure your teeth and gums continue to stay healthy.

     ● Seek Assistance: If necessary, enlist the help of a caregiver or family member to assist with oral hygiene tasks.

Understanding the changes that occur in the body as we age and how they affect oral health is essential for maintaining a healthy smile throughout life. By implementing practical tips to combat challenges such as dry mouth, medication side effects, and decreased dexterity, individuals can preserve their oral health and enjoy a radiant smile for years to come. Remember to prioritize regular dental check-ups and communicate any concerns or changes in oral health with your dentist or healthcare provider. With proper care and attention, aging doesn't have to mean compromising on oral health.


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Dr. Laura Ellefson & Dr. Kasia Marelich

We are dedicated to excellence in family and cosmetic dentistry, specifically prevention, crown & bridge, veneers, implants and teeth whitening. Located in Santa Rosa, California, the office serves patients throughout Sonoma County including neighboring cities such as Healdsburg, Windsor, Sebastopol, Rohnert Park and Petaluma.

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