Fight cavities as you age 

It’s an unfortunate truth that you’re never too old for cavities. It’s one reason why taking care of your oral health is still important — because adults 65 and older are at a higher risk for dental issues than younger adults. Let's take a look at how teeth change over time and how older adults can work to reduce cavities, gum disease, and tooth loss.

More than half of adults age 65 and older have moderate or severe gum disease (periodontitis).1

How your teeth change with age 

Your teeth may become less sensitive. 

Tooth pulp (the nerves and blood supply inside your teeth) can become calcified in older adults, which may make them less sensitive to cavities and other issues.

Less sensitivity means you may not notice problems until they have worsened. This, in turn, can potentially lead to gum disease, severe tooth decay, and tooth loss. Make sure you keep up with your regular dental exams so your dentist can catch these issues early.

Nearly 1 in 5 adults 65 years or older have untreated tooth decay.2

Complications from dry mouth are more common.

Older adults often take multiple medications, many of which list dry mouth as a common side effect. While this may sound like a minor inconvenience, saliva is actually pretty important for your oral health. Here’s why:

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    Saliva is made up of powerful smile-protecting substances that help keep your mouth clean and healthy.

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    A lack of saliva — or dry mouth — reduces these benefits and increases risk of tooth decay, gum disease, and other mouth infections.

Thinning enamel can make teeth appear darker.

Your tooth enamel typically thins from wear and tear over time. This allows the next layer, a bone-like tissue called dentin, to show through. The yellow-colored dentin, alongside other factors (like stain-causing beverages, such as coffee and dark teas), can lead to darker appearing teeth. 

Other age-related risk factors  

Aging is different for all of us. A few factors that can make oral health care more challenging and increase risk include:

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    Transportation: Being disabled, homebound, or residing in assisted living centers can complicate transportation to dental appointments.

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    Mobility: Arthritis can limit hand mobility and make brushing, flossing, and other aspects of routine oral hygiene more difficult.

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    Smoking: Adults 50 years and older who smoke are more likely to get periodontal (gum) disease and less likely to get dental care than people who do not smoke.3

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    Lack of benefits: Many older Americans stop attending regular dental checkups because they lost their dental benefits upon retirement and do not have dental coverage under original Medicare (Parts A and B), Medicare supplemental coverage (Medigap), or a Medicare Advantage plan (Medicare Part C).*

Do you need dental coverage? An individual dental plan through benefits providers such as Delta Dental can help. You can choose from multiple plan options and we help make regular dental care easier. Most of our plans cover routine checkups and cleaning at 100%!

Three tips for maintaining healthy teeth

While cavity risks do increase as you get older, you can still take action to help safeguard your oral health!

1.     Keep up with your routine dental care 

  • Brush your teeth and gums twice each day with fluoride toothpaste
  • Floss daily
  • See your dentist regularly

If you or your loved one is a resident in an assisted living center, work with the center to ensure your daily oral health needs are met and that you make your regular dental appointments.

2.     Watch out for gum disease

Healthy behaviors that can reduce your risk of gum disease can also boost your overall health and well-being:

  • Stay hydrated
  • Do not smoke
  • Maintain a good oral health routine

Tell your dentist if you experience warning signs of gum disease, such as swollen or tender gums, or excess bleeding when brushing or flossing.

3.    Take care of your dentures

A denture care routine will keep them feeling comfortable and help you avoid oral health problems.

  • Remove and rinse dentures after eating, brush them daily and soak them overnight.
  • Avoid hot water and abrasive cleaning materials, which can cause warping or damage.
  • Work with your dentist to find a comfortable fit, as loose dentures can cause irritation and infection.

Work with loved ones, or even your assisted living center and dentist’s office, to overcome any obstacles to dental care that you face. They can help you make a plan for your routine care, review benefit options, and address transportation or any other needs you may have.

1American Journal of Public Health

2,3Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

*If this applies to you, look into Medicare Advantage programs (Medicare Part C) that include extra benefits such as dental, hearing, and vision.

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