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What oral problems do we face in old age? Artedental responds 

Recently, on a trip along the Costa de la Luz  in Anadalucía, I stumbled upon a crowded camping site of retired North-European people enjoying the sun in the winter season.

It was like watching an installation of solar panels. The majority rested outside their caravans in beach hammocks facing the midday sun. I thought it was a great plan for retirement: move to the south, where everything is cheaper, to enjoy the pension in a place where the climate was more benevolent. It’s what I wanted but my envy vanished instantly when I observed the elated laugh of a character who seemed to be listening to a funny anecdote from his partner. Suddenly I was reminded of the endless list of health complaints I used to hear from seniors when I had an appointment with the doctor or dentist.

The loss of teeth seemed especially disturbing to me, because it does not matter that you have reached the age of 60 with an iron denture, it is likely that the effects of old age and the typical behaviour associated with it will affect our teeth.

In fact, the online library SCielo, driven in part by the Latin American and Caribbean Centre for Health Sciences Information, features an article by several experts on oral diseases associated with old age. In it, it is stated that “the elderly have a higher risk of developing chronic diseases of the mouth, which include infections (cavities, periodontitis), tooth loss, benign lesions of the mucous membrane and oral cancer; in addition to other conditions such as xerostomia and oral candidiasis.

The hygienist staff of the Artedental clinic in Tenerife, with great experience in the treatment of elderly people of British and German origin for their location in one of the island’s favourite tourist enclaves, Puerto de la Cruz, describes some of the associated oral diseases to old age:

Cavities, periodontitis and xerostomia: the importance of saliva

The probability of cavities in people over 60 years of age doubles that of those in their 30s, mainly because age reduces saliva, which is essential to fight against bacteria. It also influences the retraction of the gums, natural with age, because it leaves exposed the root of the teeth and therefore it is easier to be attacked by said bacteria. Another fundamental factor for the development of cavities is the change of diet to soft elements or fermented carbohydrates (more cariogenic) due to difficulties in chewing hard foods.

The reduction of saliva, the retraction of the gum, the decrease of bone mass and the consumption of medicines can also lead to periodontitis, that is, inflammation or infection of the gums. If it gets worse, it can lead to gingivitis and the consequent loss of the tooth.

And finally, the most common effect of salivary reduction is xerostomia or dry mouth, more frequent in women since this symptom is related to the changes caused by menopause. Likewise, the increase in the consumption of medicines at these ages causes xerostomia in between 30 per cent and 60 per cent of the elderly population.

Loss of teeth

The greatest trauma if possible. In addition to being the final phase of the evolution of cavities or periodontitis, throughout a lifetime there are many reasons why one or several teeth may have been lost. A fall, a blow, an infection … The first consequence, in addition to aesthetics, is the incidence in mastication and therefore in a worsening of the diet, which will result in a worse quality of life for the elderly.

However, dentistry has advanced enough to avoid these problems thanks to removable dentures or, in the best case, dental implants. At Artedental, specialists in implantology, recommend this technique because the implant replaces the root of our teeth, and preserving it helps you not lose facial bone mass.

Mouth cancer

The probability of suffering from oral cancer increases after 65 years, especially among men, smokers and alcohol users. Detecting it on time is fundamental for its treatment, and precisely for this reason the Tenerife College of Dentists has begun this 2018 to warn of the importance of the reviews in dentists among elderly people, because biopsies “can save lives”. It is the dentists who are most likely to detect it early. At Artedental, for example, they perform biopsies of suspicious lesions and cultures of large and / or recurrent infections, so that, if positive, they can be referred to the oncologist or the facial maxillofacial expert.

The World Health Organisation (WHO), aware of how this type of affection affects during old age, advises:

Brush twice a day with a soft bristle toothbrush. The use of an electric toothbrush can also be beneficial.

Clean between the teeth once a day with dental floss or other interdental cleaner.

If you have complete or partial denture, clean it daily. The denture must be removed from the mouth for a minimum of four hours every day. The ideal is to extract it at night.

Drink running water since it usually contains fluoride. This helps prevent tooth decay, regardless of age.

Give up smoking. In addition to increasing the risk of lung cancer and other cancers, smoking aggravates the problems of gum disease, tooth decay and tooth loss.

Visit the dentist regularly for a complete dental check-up.