Common Dental Concerns for Seniors

a smiling patient from State Street Dental
Good oral care is essential for everyone, no matter what your age. Everyone from infants to seniors needs good oral hygiene to maintain a happy, healthy mouth. As you get older, your risk of facing oral health issues increases. These issues are not necessarily the result of aging. It is more than certain issues occur as you age that can then have an impact on your oral health.

You may develop certain conditions or need to take certain medications. These factors and more can play a major role in your oral health and increase your risk of being faced with dental and oral health complications. At State Street Dental, we can help you to understand the common dental concerns that come with getting older and what you can do to protect the health of your mouth.

Tooth Discoloration

Your teeth are made up of a few different layers. The outermost layer is called the enamel. The enamel is an incredibly hard substance. It is also naturally bright white in color. However, there are numerous factors that can cause the enamel to become dull and discolored. Common causes of discoloration include what you eat and drink as well as tobacco products. Over time, stains can collect on the surfaces of your teeth, dulling their natural beauty.

As you age, an additional factor contributes to discoloration. Over the years, the normal daily wear and tear your adult teeth have endured begin to take their toll. The enamel begins to thin. As this happens, the dentin layer begins to become more visible. The dentin is the layer below the enamel layer. It is also hard, though not as hard as the enamel. This layer contains hollow channels that lead to the roots of the teeth. It is also naturally darker in color.

Tooth Decay and Cavities

Tooth decay and cavities can affect anyone of any age. Cavities occur when acids from plaque and bacteria linger on your teeth and begin to erode or eat away at your tooth enamel. This is decay. The longer decay goes untreated, the worse it can become until small pits begin to form on the surfaces of your teeth. These pits are cavities. Once they develop, they cannot be reversed. Cavities tend to be more common amongst children, who have a harder time properly brushing and flossing. Children also tend to rush through their oral hygiene routine or try to skip it altogether.

As you enter into your senior years, you enter into another phase of increased risk for these decays and cavities. There are a few different reasons for this.

One major reason for an increased risk for decay and cavities is difficulty maintaining a proper oral hygiene routine. Brushing and flossing every day are essential habits for eliminating plaque, bacteria, and the acids they produce from the surfaces of your teeth. It is not just brushing and flossing. The technique matters, too.

As you get older, there are certain issues that can prevent you from properly brushing and flossing your teeth. One of these issues is arthritis. Arthritis can make it both difficult and very painful to practice good oral hygiene. Those with dementia can also have a much harder time brushing and flossing.

Another common reason why seniors are at an increased risk for developing tooth decay and cavities is because of their diet. As you get older, it may become more difficult to maintain a healthy, well-balanced diet. You may not be able to eat many of your favorite foods. Some seniors may not eat regular meals and snack throughout the day instead. These snacks may be sugary or starchy. While sugar does not cause cavities itself, it does provide food for the bacteria in your mouth. With more sugars, the bacteria produce more acids, which can lead to more tooth erosion.

Periodontal Disease

Periodontal disease is a serious issue that affects not just your gums but your jawbone, your teeth, and your whole-body health. When periodontal disease first begins, you may not even know that you have it. It develops as a result of a bacterial infection in your mouth. As bacteria accumulate, they begin to irritate your gums, which triggers an inflammatory response. This causes the gums to begin to swell.

Without treatment, periodontal disease only continues to grow worse. Your swollen gums begin to pull away from your teeth, which causes pockets to develop. Bacteria, plaque, and other debris collect in these pockets, causing more and more irritation and inflammation. As this happens, the pockets grow deeper and deeper. Eventually, the bacteria reach the periodontal ligaments and the jawbone. They begin to attack these supporting structures, weakening them. Bacteria can even get into the bloodstream and travel throughout the body. Once in the body, these bacteria can contribute to serious health complications such as heart disease and diabetes.

A big contributing factor to an increased risk for periodontal disease is due to poor brushing and flossing habits. When you cannot properly brush and floss your teeth, plaque and bacteria are left to accumulate on your teeth. This accumulation can then lead to the irritation and inflammation of your gums.

Poor nutrition can also increase your risk of periodontal disease. Whether you are unable to chew properly or you do not eat a healthy diet, deprivation of essential nutrients puts your gums at an increased risk. Not only does the health of your gums suffer but inadequate nutrition also affects your immune system. This means that your body cannot effectively fight off the bacterial attacks, leaving you more vulnerable.


Xerostomia is a condition better known as dry mouth. Seniors are more prone to dry mouth. This is not because you are getting older. Dry mouth can occur as a result of medications you may need to take as a result of age-related conditions. Dry mouth is a side effect of more than 500 medications taken to treat issues such as allergies, high blood pressure, depression, high cholesterol, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s disease. Dry mouth can also occur as a result of certain medical conditions.

So, what exactly is dry mouth? Dry mouth is when there is not enough saliva being produced to keep your mouth properly moist. Saliva serves many important roles. It helps to break down foods to make them easier to eat. It washes away food particles, bacteria, and other debris. Saliva also helps to neutralize acids and kill bacteria. When there is not enough saliva in your mouth, it becomes dry and tacky. It also becomes an ideal environment to host bacterial growth. Bacteria multiply much more easily and much faster.

If you have dry mouth, your risk for different oral health issues increases significantly. Dry mouth can increase your risk of developing tooth decay and cavities. It can also increase your risk of developing periodontal disease. Additionally, dry mouth can lead to dry, cracked lips, difficulty speaking properly, and difficulty swallowing properly.

Gum Recession

Your gums play several important roles in your mouth. They form a tight, protective seal around the necks of your teeth, which prevents bacteria from getting to the roots of the teeth and the bone. The tissue covers the roots of the teeth, preventing sensitivity. They also play a significant aesthetic role in your smile.

Gum recession occurs when the tissue begins to shrink away from the teeth. There are several reasons why this might occur. One common reason for gum recession is because of periodontal disease. When swollen gums pull away from your teeth, the tissue begins to die off. This causes the gum line to recede as the pockets grow deeper. Another common cause for recession is bruxism. This is a condition in which you grind and clench your teeth. The excessive pressure on your teeth wears away at the gum tissue, causing it to recede. In some cases, the gums may naturally begin to recede as you get older. This may occur because of the toll everyday use has taken.

When your gums recede, several issues begin to arise. First, the gum recession causes your teeth to appear longer than normal. The expression long in the teeth comes from the fact that recession is a common occurrence in older adults. With more of your tooth surface exposed, your risk for developing cavities, including root cavities, increases. Gum recession also leaves your teeth more susceptible to sensitivity, which can be quite uncomfortable.

Tooth Loss

Your teeth are supported by your jawbone. The bone and the periodontal ligaments surround the teeth, helping to keep them securely in place. However, the bone around the teeth can weaken, and tooth loss can occur. While anyone can suffer tooth loss, it is more common in older adults.

There are a few reasons why tooth loss can occur. One of the biggest reasons for tooth loss is periodontal disease. As the bacteria reach your jaw, they begin to attack the bone and periodontal ligaments. This causes the supporting structures to weaken. When this happens, the teeth become loose. They may shift out of alignment, altering your bite and causing issues like bruxism. The longer periodontal disease goes untreated, the weaker the bone becomes. If it becomes too weak, it can no longer properly support your teeth, which then leads to tooth loss.

Bruxism is another common cause of tooth loss. As your teeth grind and clench together, there is excessive pressure placed on them. There is also excessive pressure placed on your periodontal ligaments and your jawbone. This pressure can widen the ligaments, causing your teeth to become loose. Over time they may fall out.

Seniors are at an increased risk for developing osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is a condition in which your bones begin to lose mass and weaken. It can affect all different areas of the body, including the jaw. As the jawbone weakens, the stability of your teeth then becomes compromised.

Oral Cancer

Oral cancer can affect anyone. However, it is more likely to impact some more than others. Men are at a greater risk than women. Adults over the age of 55 are at a greater risk than younger individuals. Additionally, those who smoke and drink alcohol are at a greater risk than those who do not.

Oral cancer can be devastating. It affects more than 40,000 Americans every single year. It can begin just about anywhere inside the mouth, including the lips, tongue, cheeks, gums, or the back of the mouth near the entrance of the throat. The earlier the cancer is detected, the easier it is to treat and the greater your chances of making a full recovery. However, when it first starts, you might never know that there is anything wrong. The earliest symptoms of oral cancer are difficult, if not impossible, to detect. Without treatment, oral cancer can begin to spread. As it spreads, it becomes more difficult to treat. The later it is detected, the more difficult it becomes to eradicate. Without early and proper treatment, oral cancer can be fatal.

How Can Seniors Protect Their Oral Health?

Just because you are entering into your senior years, this does not mean that you have to suffer from dental issues. There are plenty of ways to help keep your mouth, and your whole body, healthy. First, a good oral hygiene routine is essential. You should brush your teeth at least twice a day and floss at least once a day. If you have issues with manual dexterity, consider an electric toothbrush and floss pick instead of a traditional manual toothbrush and floss. Rinse your mouth with an antibacterial mouthwash. Have your teeth professionally cleaned and examined every 6 months.

If you have suffered tooth loss, it is essential that you have your missing teeth replaced as soon as possible. Today, you have several options for tooth replacement. Depending upon your situation, you can replace teeth using a bridge, partial denture, full denture, or dental implants.

If you wear dentures, it is important that you take good care of them. This care involves removing them every night to clean them properly. In addition to cleaning your dentures, it is also important to take good care of the rest of your mouth. Soak your dentures overnight while you sleep. As soon as you notice that your dentures do not fit properly, it is important that you get fit for a new set.

Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet. This will help to ensure that your body and immune system are getting all the nutrients they need to remain healthy and fight off infections. In addition to eating well, make sure that you drink plenty of water.

If you smoke or use any other types of tobacco products, it is essential that you quit. Quitting tobacco use will help to not only improve your oral health but your overall health as well. Additionally, quitting tobacco will help your body to defend itself against infections more effectively.

If you take medications for certain health issues, take a close look at the side effects. If the side effects list dry mouth, talk with your physician. It may be possible to switch to a different medication. If your medication cannot be changed, make sure that you take care to keep your mouth hydrated, which including drinking plenty of water.

Just because you are getting older, this does not mean that you are doomed to an unhealthy mouth. With proper care, you can keep your mouth happy and healthy, and prevent common dental concerns from developing. For more information, and to schedule your appointment, contact State Street Dental today at (971) 332-3020.

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Salem, OR 97301-4343

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