For Natural Teeth at 80, Start Young
The majority of baby boomers will maintain their natural teeth over their lifetime, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).5 And there has been a substantial decrease in the past decade in the number of people ages 65 and older who have lost all their teeth.1 The widespread use of fluoride in water, toothpaste, and other products has helped reduce tooth decay among all ages.5
Having a mouthful of natural teeth in your older years requires that you make the right moves for decades beforehand. Besides brushing gently at least twice a day, paying special attention to the gum line, and flossing at least once a day, you must seek regular checkups and cleanings.3
A dental visit involves a comprehensive checkup that extends beyond your teeth. Dentists screen for oral cancer8—which is particularly vital for people who drink alcohol, smoke, or chew tobacco.15 Dentists also look for side effects of medication.8 You should tell your dentist if you have diabetes or heart disease. These conditions can affect your oral health.4,12,14
Despite the importance of dental visits, 30 percent of Americans did not visit a dentist or dental clinic in 2006, according to the CDC.5 Why are people avoiding the dentist?
It may be because many people feel anxious.10 In fact, more than 20 million Americans avoid going to the dentist out of fear, according to the National Institutes of Health.9 Such fears are unwarranted. Dentists are now more understanding to patients’ needs.9 With improved anesthetics and the latest technologies, there’s very little reason for patients to be uncomfortable during their treatments.11
If you are anxious about visiting the dentist, taking these steps may help:
Talk with your dentist. He or she can adjust your treatment to meet your needs.3
Choose a time for your visit when you aren’t rushed or under pressure.7
Bring a portable audio player so that you can listen to music during the procedure.7
Try visualization. Imagine yourself on a warm beach.7
If your anxiety is extreme, you can use pain-control methods, such as behavioral therapy techniques, to help your visit be pain-free.3 Also, some dentists prescribe medication to help patients relax.9
You should also update the dentist on changes in your health, including major illnesses as well as medications you take.3,8,13 Some drugs can affect your oral health or interact with drugs the dentist may give you.3,13
Also, alert your dentist if you notice any of these changes:
Sensitivity to hot or cold foods or drinks3,6
Pain when chewing6
Pain, pressure, or swelling of your gums3
Discoloration of your teeth6
Leaving dentures to your great-grandfather is a worthy goal—and one that has implications far beyond dental health. Research shows that poor oral health is linked to a variety of other ailments, including heart and lung disease, diabetes, and stroke.2,13,14
After you blow out the candles on that 80th birthday cake, don’t stop taking care of your teeth. Brushing, flossing, and regular dental visits should remain part of your life.3
1 “New Report Finds Improvements in Oral Health of Americans.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, June 1, 2007. www.cdc.gov/oralhealth/publications/library/pressreleases/improvements.htm Accessed 2010.
2 “Mouth-Body Connection.”American Academy of Periodontology, August 9, 2010. www.perio.org/consumer/mbc.top2.htm Accessed 2010.
3 “Effects on Wellbeing and Quality of Life, Chapter 6.” Oral Health in America, National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, September 2000. www.nidcr.nih.gov/DataStatistics/SurgeonGeneral/sgr/chap6.htm Accessed 2010.
4 “Have a Heart-to-Heart Chat Before Dental Visits.”Academy of General Dentistry, October 2008 www.agd.org/public/oralhealth/Default.asp?IssID=320&Topic=O&ArtID=1295 Accessed 2010.
5 “Adult Oral Health” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, December 2007. www.cdc.gov/OralHealth/topics/adult.htm Accessed 2010.
6 “Root Canal Treatment.” American Association of Endodontists, 2008. www.aae.org/Patients/Content.aspx?id=135&terms=root+canal+treatment Accessed 2010.
7 “Dental Anxiety.” American Dental Association. www.ada.org/3102.aspx?currentTab=1 Accessed 2010.
8 “Making the Most of Your Dental Visit.”Academy of General Dentistry, February 2007 www.agd.org/public/oralhealth/Default.asp?IssID=344&Topic=D&ArtID=1221. Accessed 2010.
9 “How Dentists Help Anxious Patients.” Academy of General Dentistry, November 2007. www.agd.org/public/oralhealth/Default.asp?IssID=288&Topic=A&ArtID=3076. Accessed 2010.
10 “Why Am I Anxious in the Dental Office?” Academy of General Dentistry, January 2007 www.agd.org/public/oralhealth/Default.asp?IssID=288&Topic=A&ArtID=1121 Accessed 2010.
11 “Fact Sheet: Endodontics.” American Association of Endodontists, 2008. www.aae.org/News/Content.aspx?id=598&terms=root+canal+treatment Accessed 2010.
12 “How Does Diabetes Affect Oral Health?” Academy of General Dentistry, January 2007. www.agd.org/support/articles/?ArtID=1231 Accessed 2010.
13 “How to Keep a Healthy Smile for Life.” American Academy of Periodontology, June 12, 2008. www.perio.org/consumer/smileforlife.htm Accessed 2010.
14 “Oral-Systemic Health.” American Dental Association. www.ada.org/4081.aspx?currentTab=2 Accessed 2010.
15 “Oral Health for Older Americans.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, December 2006. www.cdc.gov/oralhealth/publications/factsheets/adult_older.htm Accessed 2010.