Dental health: Healthy Aging Month puts the focus on Baby Boomers

September is Healthy Aging Month, and this article from the newswire focuses on the importance of Baby Boomers maintaining their dental health as they age:

Baby Boomers are increasingly facing the unique dental problems of aging, and they should make it a priority to get treatments that will improve the quality of life of their remaining years, rather than settle for patchwork fixes, says veteran San Antonio cosmetic dentist Edward Camacho, in recognition of September’s Healthy Aging Month.

The leading edge of the Baby Boom Generation – which declared “Don’t trust anyone over 30” in the 1960s – has moved past its 66th birthday, and almost all older than 50. Healthy Aging Month was created more than 15 years ago as the first Boomers reached 50, to help them face the issues of growing older.

By this time of life, Camacho said, many adults have spent decades of caring for everyone’s dental care but their own, paying for children’s braces and other procedures, and often neglecting their own teeth. And it’s not an uncommon feeling among senior citizens that it is wasteful to get cosmetic surgery, for example, because they don’t have that much time to live anyway, he said.

Aging brings serious dental issues, including:

Tooth loss – As many as 25 percent of people 60 and older are missing all of their teeth, while many more are missing at least some teeth. The combined years of normal stress and wear begin to reach a critical point. For cost reasons, many tell the dentist to just extract teeth, rather than choose root canals, crowns, bridges or other measures. Unfortunately this is a false economy; a missing tooth means more stress and lack of support for other teeth, and may cause a “domino effect” of further tooth loss, misalignment and gum disease.

Gum disease – A number of factors boost seniors’ risk of gum disease – including an increasing vulnerability to disease in general, the effects of diabetes, shrinking gums, dry mouth and others. Gum disease affects not only teeth, but can have a deadly effect on overall health.

Wear and tear – Aging teeth may have serious issues with wear, as the surfaces of teeth become pitted. These pits may trap food particles and bacteria and are tougher to keep clean. It also weakens the tooth, creating a breach that may lead to a break. Changes in the enamel and pulp of aging teeth also mean they are more brittle, and easily broken. And lower sensitivity in the nerves means that seniors may not nice chipping or breaking.

Denture problems – Aside from their shortcomings compared to natural teeth, dentures are also subject to aging conditions. As time goes on, the bone structure beneath the gums shrinks, leaving dentures to an increasing ill fit that causes chewing pain and may lead to gum disease and poor nutrition.

Dry mouth – Seniors may experience dry mouth because of both aging salivary glands and a variety of medications – from antidepressants to heart and blood pressure medications and others. Saliva is crucial to dental health because of its importance in washing bacteria that can cause tooth decay and gum disease.

Experts in aging encourage seniors to be active in areas of their lives that will keep them in a young and healthy frame of mind, through proper diet, exercise and social activities and proper health care. This outlook helps not only with quality of life – but may actually extend life. Camacho said it’s important to carry this outlook to dental health care. And he disagrees with the idea of just doing “patchwork” dentistry on older people.

“We often hear older patients just wanting ‘things patched up’ as opposed to getting something aesthetic,” Camacho said. “They may have the idea that they are not worth it, or their families have the idea that that they are too old for cosmetic dentistry. This may lead to an attitude that things are ending.”

But cosmetic dentistry may be key to a person’s health in later life, he said:
“Improving an older person’s smile can bring them more happiness and joy, not only by improving chewing efficiency, but also bringing joy back. They will want to smile more.”

Dr. Natalie Khadavi sees children and adults in Culver City and serves the greater Los Angeles area. Visit our website or give us a call at (310) 482-3971 for more information about how we can provide you and your family with healthy smiles that last a lifetime.

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