There’s a natural wearing down of our teeth as we age. Old fillings crack from years of chewing and grinding, which allows an opening for decay to spread around the edges. The best preventative is regular checkups and teeth cleanings, but not everyone is comfortable visiting a dentist. People with dental anxiety tend to avoid seeing the dentist, but ignoring your oral health puts you at risk for dental problems in the future.

1. Tooth decay

The protective, outer layer of tooth enamel thins as we age from years of chewing, eating acidic foods and drinking carbonated beverages. Cavities are more likely to form when older fillings crack and expose the tissue to inflammation and irritation. This allows bacteria to seep in and cause decay near the root of the tooth. If an older, cracked filling is not replaced, the corrosion may spread down into the root of the tooth and require a root canal.

2. Tooth sensitivity

When everyday wear and tear erodes teeth over time, the surfaces may become sensitive to hot and cold temperatures. This is especially true if decay has already set in or if the roots of the teeth are exposed. If you are experiencing these symptoms, you should schedule a visit with your dentist to avoid further complications and expensive treatments. Patients with naturally sensitive teeth (and no decay) can ask their dentist to recommend a special toothpaste to help alleviate the pain of sensitivity.

3. Shifting teeth

Our teeth shift as we age, causing overcrowding and tight margins between the teeth. The lack of space makes it more difficult to floss and causes food traps to form, which can easily become target areas for tooth decay to spread. A patient who has overcrowded teeth may need to schedule dental cleanings 3-4 times per year to prevent increased decay.

4. Dry mouth

The calcium and phosphate in saliva help protect our teeth from decay. Unfortunately, many people over fifty take medications that may affect saliva production. Side effects can include dry mouth, bad breath, and a metallic taste in the mouth.

Unfortunately, cavities can form as quickly as three months after symptoms of dry mouth occur. The problem can usually be remedied by drinking plenty of water or chewing sugarless gum. If this doesn’t work, your dentist can recommend a stronger over-the-counter formula to prevent dry mouth.

5. Gingivitis

If your gums are red, puffy, and bleed whenever you brush or floss, chances are you have gingivitis. When left unchecked, it can turn into something far worse. Recent studies have shown a link between gum inflammation and other serious health conditions such as respiratory issues. diabetes, stroke and even heart disease.

6. Periodontitis

Gingivitis can advance into periodontitis, a gum disease that causes infections in the gum, jaw bone, and the ligaments that support the teeth. Once the gum pulls away from the tooth, deep pockets form, creating an open space for bacteria-laden plaque to collect. If left untreated, there is a higher risk for receding gums, wobbly teeth, deterioration of the jaw bone, and tooth loss. It is recommended that a patient with these conditions visit a periodontist for tooth structure support and to prevent further periodontal disease.

7. Oral cancer

There is a higher risk of oral cancer in patients who are heavy drinkers or smokers. A regular dental examination should include checking the soft tissue in the mouth as well as the throat and jaw to detect any symptoms of oral cancer.

Early detection is the best defense against dental problems. Be sure to visit your dentist at least twice a year for regular cleanings and exams (and possibly more frequently as you age). If you stick with preventative measures at home (regular brushing, flossing, and using fluoride as needed), you’ll have a beautiful smile that will last a long time.

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