Compared to previous generations, baby boomers are living longer and enjoying a more active healthy life, but they still experience some dental problems. For the most part, this generation has experienced better dental care and healthier teeth than their parents and grandparents, but when they begin to draw social security, it can lower the money available for dental care. Here are some of the dental problems or challenges that boomers face when it comes to keeping their smiles healthy and bright.
Dental Care Among Baby Boomers
During their working years, many boomers had access to excellent healthcare through their employers, but when they enter retirement, many of these benefits ended. On social security, many boomers are forced to skip dental care.
According to a survey conducted between 2011-2012, approximately 19% of all those aged 65 and older have no natural teeth. Longer lifespans also account for declining dental health. The lack of dental care is less pronounced among those who are in the middle and upper class.
Several other effects of aging have a pronounced effect on dental health. For instance, as a person ages, they often have a lower ability to fight off common infections, a loss of manual dexterity, and a loss of appetite that can lead to malnutrition. As one ages, the dependence on medication also increases, which can cause the breakdown of tooth enamel and dental problems. All of these changes can have an impact on the ability of the person to retain their natural teeth.
Gum disease shares several common factors with other problems among boomers. For instance, smoking, obesity, stress, high cholesterol, hypertension, a sedentary lifestyle, age, and inflammation also correlate with cardiovascular disease and diabetes. The good news is that many of these factors can be controlled through proper diet, exercise, and regular checkups.
Common Dental Problems Due to Aging
Here are some of the more common dental problems that boomers should be on the lookout for as they age.
Periodontal disease is an infection of the gums that causes inflammation. In its early stages, it is called gingivitis and includes red, swollen gums that bleed easily. As the condition progresses, it is called periodontitis and can cause the gums to separate from the teeth. This can cause tooth decay, bone loss, and can cause you to lose your teeth.
The incidence of periodontal disease rises to 47% of all adults over the age of 30 and 70% in seniors over the age of 65. A healthy diet and regular visits to the dentist are the best way to keep your gums healthy and prevent the development of periodontal disease. It is easier to treat this disease in its early stages than in more advanced stages of the disease.
Two groups have higher incidences of tooth decay. This includes those in their early years and those over the age of 50. This occurs for several reasons. As you age, your bones can become soft. Also, the neurological problems and difficulty performing the act of brushing your teeth can become more difficult. If you have periodontal disease, exposed teem can be more prone to decay.
Avoiding tooth decay is an important part of helping to maintain your smile and natural teeth for many years to come. Older filings or places that are hard to reach can become more prone to dental caries. Dry mouth is another reason why cavities are more prevalent in boomers.
Saliva protects teeth from decay, and as you get older, you can experience lower saliva production. Medication and not drinking enough water throughout the day can cause lower saliva production and increase the potential for tooth decay. It is recommended that you take small sips of water throughout the day to make sure that you are producing more saliva.
Tooth Shifting and Crowding
Another little-known effect of aging is that your teeth tend to shift. They will shift to fill in the space left by missing teeth. When your teeth shift, they cause misaligned, crooked, and crowded teeth. This can make daily dental care difficult, cause problems chewing food, and can damage the supporting bone. Regular dental care will help prevent damage from crowded teeth and help you to get into the places that you might miss when brushing.
Dentures and Dental Implants
The problems listed above can lead to tooth loss and the need for dentures or dental implants. It is much easier to take care of your natural teeth than dentures. Dental implants require screwing a device into your bone and attaching the implant to it. It is a major surgical procedure that carries its own risks. If you have significant bone loss or damage, dental implants might not be an option. The best solution is always to take care of your teeth and avoid these options for as long as possible.
Smoking and heavy alcohol consumption increase the risk of oral cancer along with other lifestyle and genetic factors. Early detection is the key to survival, which is another reason why regular visits to the dentist are important for boomers. During a regular checkup, the dentist will check for signs of abnormalities.
Ending or Avoiding Dental Problems
It is never too late to start good dental hygiene habits. If you have not been to the dentist in quite some time, there may be resources in your area to help you cover the costs. Healthy daily habits and lifestyle play a major role in good dental care and keeping your teeth and gums healthy as you age. Losing your teeth and poor dental health does not have to be a normal part of aging for boomers.
Good dental care starts at home. If you are a smoker or heavy alcohol consumer, then it is time to get help quitting as soon as possible. Making sure that you are following a healthy diet, avoiding processed food, and sugar is another important step. You also want to make sure that you are getting enough lean proteins, fruits, and vegetables to help your body stay healthy and strong.
Exercise is important for your overall health and to help you to fight infections like gingivitis. Regular visits to your dentist can help you prevent or delay the effects of aging on your teeth and gums, so if you have not been to the dentist in some time, it is time to call for an appointment.