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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). 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. The widespread use of fluoride in water, toothpaste, and other products has helped reduce tooth decay among all ages.

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.

A dental visit involves a comprehensive checkup that extends beyond your teeth. Dentists screen for oral cancer — which is particularly vital for people who drink alcohol, smoke, or chew tobacco. Dentists also look for side effects of medication. You should tell your dentist if you have diabetes or heart disease. These conditions can affect your oral health.

Despite the importance of dental visits, 30 percent of Americans did not visit a dentist or dental clinic in 2006, according to the CDC. Why are people avoiding the dentist?

It may be because many people feel anxious. In fact, more than 20 million Americans avoid going to the dentist out of fear, according to the National Institutes of Health. Such fears are unwarranted. Dentists are now more understanding to patients’ needs. With improved anesthetics and the latest technologies, there’s very little reason for patients to be uncomfortable during their treatments.

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.

  • Choose a time for your visit when you aren’t rushed or under pressure.

  • Bring a portable audio player so that you can listen to music during the procedure.

  • Try visualization. Imagine yourself on a warm beach.

If your anxiety is extreme, you can use pain-control methods, such as behavioral therapy techniques, to help your visit be pain-free. Also, some dentists prescribe medication to help patients relax.

You should also update the dentist on changes in your health, including major illnesses as well as medications you take. Some drugs can affect your oral health or interact with drugs the dentist may give you.

Also, alert your dentist if you notice any of these changes:

  • Sensitivity to hot or cold foods or drinks

  • Pain when chewing

  • Pain, pressure, or swelling of your gums

  • Discoloration of your teeth

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.

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.

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“Periodontal Disease and Systemic Health.”American Academy of Periodontology, www.perio.org/consumer/mbc.top2.htm Accessed 2013.

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“Have a Heart-to-Heart Chat Before Dental Visits.” Know Your Teeth, Academy of General Dentistry, January 2012. http://www.knowyourteeth.com/infobites/abc/article/?abc=H&iid=320&aid=1295 Accessed 2013.

“Adult Oral Health” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, July 10, 2013. http://www.cdc.gov/OralHealth/children_adults/adults.htmAccessed 2013.

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“Why Am I Anxious in the Dental Office?” Know Your Teeth, Academy of General Dentistry, January 2012. http://www.knowyourteeth.com/infobites/abc/article/?abc=W&iid=344&aid=1219 Accessed 2013.

“Fact Sheet: Endodontics and Endodontists.” American Association of Endodontists. http://www.aae.org/about-aae/news-room/fact-sheet.aspx Accessed 2013.

“How Does Diabetes Affect Oral Health?” Know Your Teeth, Academy of General Dentistry, January 2012. http://www.knowyourteeth.com/infobites/abc/article/?abc=H&iid=320&aid=1294 Accessed 2013.

“Preventing Periodontal Disease.” American Academy of Periodontology. http://www.perio.org/node/510 Accessed 2013.

“Oral-Systemic Health.” American Dental Association. www.ada.org/4081.aspx?currentTab=2 Accessed 2013.

“Oral Health for Older Americans.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, December 2006. http://www.cdc.gov/OralHealth/publications/factsheets/adult_oral_health/adult_older.htm Accessed 2013.

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