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the tooth of the matter how tooth decay and loss affect seniors smiles

The Tooth of the Matter: How Tooth Decay and Loss Affect Seniors’ Smiles

According to the American Dental Association, senior adults experience tooth decay and gum disease at a higher rate than any other age demographic. The aging process impacts the teeth and gums just like it does the rest of the body; teeth wear down and move around, gums recede and loosen up, and smiles become discolored. As a result, many seniors are seeking out smile makeovers to polish up their pearly whites and protect their dental health.

Although teeth are made out of hard, bonelike enamel, they do experience wear and tear as a natural consequence of use and aging. Over time, mechanical caused chewing and occlusal wear caused by the top and bottom teeth meeting impact enamel over time. Other factors that impact tooth enamel quality and strength include diet, the use of certain medications and using tobacco and nicotine products. When tooth enamel strength is compromised, senior patients face a greater risk of developing cavities and fracturing a tooth.

Gums also recede as part of the aging process, and this means teeth become loosened and move around.

“When teeth move around, it impacts the appearance of the smile,” Dr. Stefania Caracioni, D.D.S., L.V.I.F., said.

Caracioni is a Topeka, Kan. dentist who helps many patients restore their smiles through smile makeovers.

“Another consequence of gum recession is that dental prosthetics and dentures no longer fitting properly, and patients begin to feel self-conscious about eating or talking,” Caracioni said. “Some senior patients also experience receding gums as a result of a lifetime of improper brushing or practicing poor dental hygiene.”

When teeth are not brushed properly or at all, plaque and bacteria flourish, inflaming the gums and attacking the teeth. Other causes of gum recession include the uses of certain medications, tobacco and nicotine products and vitamin deficiencies.

Receding gums also leave patients at risk of tooth loss- which, at first, may not seem to be that big of a deal to many individuals, but dentists like Caracioni stress that tooth loss is indeed a situation patients should want to avoid.

“Losing your teeth impacts the ability to speak and how patients eat,” Caracioni said.

Even more serious is that it leads to atrophy of the jaw bone. The physical structure of the face also changes when teeth are lost or removed.

Other concerns of seniors worried about their smiles frequently include staining from diet or tobacco use, and in some cases, teeth even turn gray or black because nerves and blood vessels die off. This discoloration is a source of embarrassment for many patients, causing them to hide their smiles.

Caracioni offers teeth whitening services to boost and brighten both the patient’s smile- and their self-confidence. Other options available include porcelain veneers to make surfaces even and symmetrical.

“Porcelain veneers are a type of intervention that helps to improve a patient’s smile, and make sure things appear nice and straight and even,” she said.

Dental implants are another option offered by Caracioni, and for patients that have lost teeth, they are a better option for patients than prosthetic dentures because they are permanent. During an implant, a titanium post is placed in the jaw bone, and a durable, ceramic tooth is placed on top of that. The implant will last the patient the rest of their lives, with proper care like brushing and flossing, according to Caracioni.

She also offers several other cosmetic dental treatments to improve the appearance of smiles for patients of any age. One popular treatment is laser gum therapy to treat overly gummy smiles that may also cause patients to shy away from smiling.

“Some patients’ gums do not recede after they get their permanent teeth, which gives the appearance of very large gums,” Caracioni said.

The laser gum therapy she offers allows patients to reduce the size of the gums through a much easier process and recovery than traditional surgical methods.