Brushing and flossing are critical for a healthy mouth
BY DR. KOMOROFF Universal Uclick
Monday, December 03, 2012
12/03/12 at 3:51 AM
Dear Doctor K: As I age, what can I do to keep my mouth healthy?
Dear Reader: Older people suffer higher rates of gum disease, dental decay, mouth infections and tooth loss. Fortunately, you can keep your mouth feeling younger than its years by practicing good oral hygiene.
Your teeth are amazingly strong, but a lifetime of crunching and grinding wears away the outer layer of enamel, as does exposure to acidic foods. Weakened enamel can set the stage for cavities. Cavities can lead to infections of the root of a tooth, requiring a root canal procedure. They also can weaken teeth, causing them to crack.
Gum tissue naturally recedes with age. The gums pull away from the base of the teeth. This leaves a gap between the gum and the tooth that can become a prime target for tooth decay.
Plaque, a mass of bacteria all embedded in a gel-like substance, often forms in and near the gap between the gum and tooth. The bacteria secrete substances that damage the teeth and gums. Plaque will build up and start to attract minerals such as calcium. That's called tartar, and it's hard to fully remove with a toothbrush.
Plaque can cause inflammation of your gums, a condition called gingivitis. When plaque and tartar start damaging the tooth, the soft tissue around the tooth and the jaw bone, you have periodontal disease.
Periodontal disease is the primary culprit in tooth loss among older adults. Fortunately, your dentist can treat periodontal disease with a combination of scaling to remove the hardened plaque and infected gum tissue, antibiotics, and - in advanced cases - surgery.
The pillars of cavity and plaque prevention - brushing and flossing (at least twice a day), and regular cleanings at the dentist's office - remain as important as ever.
If you have trouble brushing and flossing because of arthritis or other conditions, switch to an electric toothbrush. Use toothpaste and mouth rinses that contain fluoride.
Write Dr. K at www.AskDoctorK.com or c/o Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut, Kansas City, MO 64106