The Oral Health & Aging

Your body changes as you grow and age, and your mouth is no exception. Understanding how your mouth changes with age will help ensure you do what is required to stay healthy.

Tooth Anatomy

Your teeth have several parts. The outermost layer is the enamel. This is the part of the tooth you are accustomed to seeing, and is the strongest tissue in the body. It is hard, shiny, and white, and covers the chewing surface or crown of the tooth. Dentin is a porous layer below the enamel, and makes up most of the tooth. Though porous, dentin is hard and solid, and brown in color. Below the dentin is the pulp of the tooth. This soft tissue houses blood vessels, nerves and other connective tissue, nourishing teeth as they grow. Once teeth are mature, the pulp provides sensory input from the tooth to the body. Each tooth in your mouth has roots which are anchored in bone, and is surrounded by soft pink tissue called gums.

Your Aging Mouth: Enamel and Dentin

When one of your teeth matures, it has all the enamel it will ever have. The dentin layer, however, is constantly growing thicker. Though your teeth start out completely covered in white enamel, over time the enamel wears away. At the same time, the brown dentin layer continues to thicken. The result is a darkening or discoloration of the teeth with age as the dentin layer becomes visible below the enamel. Even good oral hygiene cannot stop these changes from occurring. If you’ve noticed your teeth darkening with age, bleaching or veneers can help whiten the teeth for improved appearance.

Your Aging Mouth: Pulp, Bones and Gums

As the dentin in your teeth thickens, the pulp chamber within shrinks. This leads to less sensitive teeth, which can be a problem because cavities may go undetected in older people with decreased tooth sensitivity. The bones of your jaw and mouth may also begin to deteriorate if you have gum disease, and bacteria and plaque on the teeth cause pockets to form between your teeth and gums, leading to infection. If left untreated, this infection can deteriorate your bones, causing teeth to loosen or fall out. Warning signs of gum diseases include bleeding gums or teeth that appear longer than they once did. This can be an indication that your gums are pulling away from your teeth. If you think you may have gum disease, regardless of your age, see a dentist at once.

As you age, your body matures and changes, being aware of these changes can help you make informed decisions about your health.

The Diabetes & Oral Health Connection

November was National Diabetes Month. In honor of diabetes awareness we’re exposing the link between diabetes and oral health. Many people don’t realize that diabetes is very closely linked to your overall health, and the two can have a big impact on one another. If you or someone you know is diabetic, take time to learn about this important connection.

The Connection

Simply put, having diabetes increases your risk for gum disease and periodontists, or serious gum disease. This is due in part to a diabetic person’s decreased ability to fight bacteria. If your blood-sugar levels are not well under control, your ability to fight germs is compromised, making infection of any kind more likely. Other infections that can occur in your mouth include thrush (a mouth fungus overgrowth that causes an infection), dry mouth, ulcers and cavities. Serious gum disease can also affect your blood sugar levels, increasing the rate at which diabetes progresses.

What is Gum Disease?

Gum disease is caused by bacteria in your mouth. When gum disease becomes serious, your gums begin to pull away from your teeth, leaving pockets between the gums and teeth that can fill with bacteria and other germs. As the pockets grow deeper, the infection can spread to, and destroy the bones that hold your teeth in place. If this happens, you may need surgery to keep your teeth. Without treatment, your teeth can loosen and may fall out.

Warning Signs

Gum disease doesn’t happen overnight. If you recognize the warning signs and seek treatment, you can avoid losing teeth to this infection. Unfortunately, many of the warning signs of gum disease are painless. The most obvious signs are bleeding, swollen, or tender gums. Even if they don’t hurt, bleeding gums are an indication of an overgrowth of bacteria in your mouth, as are swollen or tender gums. If you notice that your teeth look longer, this may indicate that the gums are pulling away from the teeth, another sign of developing gum disease. If pressing on the gums produces pus or if adult teeth are loose or moving, this is also a sign of serious gum disease. Lastly, if you notice changes in your bite or the fit of dentures or bridges, you should speak with a dentist about gum disease.

The best way to prevent serious gum disease from developing is to see a dentist regularly, at least every six months. It’s also a good idea to see the same dentist, because then he or she can recognize subtle changes in your gums that may not be obvious if you are seeing different dentists each time you get your teeth cleaned. If you have serious gum disease, the dentist may recommend that you come in more often than every six months.

Prevention

If you have diabetes, a well-regulated blood-sugar level is your first defense against gum disease, and all other infections. Beyond that, brushing and flossing your teeth and gums twice daily will help keep your mouth healthy, as will regular visits to the dentist. While at the dentist, be sure to discuss your diabetes and its relationship to good oral health. Diabetes can make you more susceptible to gum disease, but that doesn’t mean there is nothing you can do. Heeding the warning signs and caring for your teeth and gums will help your mouth stay healthy for years to come.