Here we are in the first week of April already. The time of year when showers bring May flowers, however I am not sure what that record-breaking deluge of last week is supposed to bring. April is also National Oral Health month and it is well known that advancing age puts many older adults at risk for a number of oral health problems, such as the following:
- Darkened teeth; caused, to some extent, by changes in the bone-like tissue that underlies the tooth enamel, and by a lifetime of consuming stain-causing foods and beverages.
- Dry mouth is caused by reduced saliva flow, which can be a result of treatments that use radiation to the head and neck area, as well as other diseases and medications.
- Diminished sense of taste. While advancing age impairs the sense of taste, diseases, medications, and dentures can also contribute to this sensory loss.
- Root decay. This is caused by exposure of the tooth root to decay-causing acids. The tooth roots become exposed as gum tissue recedes from the tooth.
- Gum disease caused by plaque and fueled by food left in teeth, use of tobacco products, poor-fitting bridges and dentures, poor diets, and certain diseases, such as anemia, cancer and diabetes.
- Tooth loss. Gum disease is a leading cause of tooth loss.
- Uneven jawbone which is usually caused by tooth loss.
- Denture-induced stomatitis. Ill-fitting dentures, poor dental hygiene, or a buildup of the fungus candida albicans, causes this condition, which is inflammation of the tissue underlying a denture.
- Thrush. Diseases or drugs that affect the immune system can trigger the overgrowth of the fungus candida albicans in the mouth.
Dentistry has changed over the years and your dentist should be an essential part of your healthcare regime. Your dentist should conduct a thorough history and oral examination if you have not visited recently, or if you have a new dentist. Some of the questions asked during your dental visit should include:
- If you have noticed any recent changes in your mouth
- If you have noticed any loose or sensitive teeth
- If you have noticed any difficulty tasting, chewing or swallowing
- If you have any pain, discomfort, sores or bleeding in your mouth
- If you have noticed any lumps, bumps or swellings in your mouth
During your oral assessment, your dentist and/or hygienist will check the following:
- your face and neck (for skin discoloration, moles, sores);
- your bite (for any problems in how your teeth come together while opening and closing your mouth);
- your temporomandibular joint (for signs of clicking and popping in the joint);
- your lymph nodes and salivary glands (for any sign of swelling or lumps);
- your inner cheeks (for infections, ulcers, traumatic injuries);
- your tongue and other interior surfaces — floor of the mouth, soft and hard palate, gum tissue (for signs of infection or oral cancer);
- your teeth (for decay, condition of fillings, cracks in teeth).
Something to keep in mind until next week: Ignore your teeth and they will go away. Or, you don’t have to brush all your teeth, just the ones you want to keep.