The “Golden” Years – by: J Daniel Lewis DDS

March 7th, 2011

The “Golden” Years – by: J Daniel Lewis DDS
The following article was written by Dr. J Daniel Lewis DDS of Grand Rapids, MI who has been taking care of our family for nearly 30 years….thanks Dr. Lewis. Remember, for any senior related issues or concerns call Seniors Helping Seniors…if we cannot help you, we will let you know who you can trust in our community.

When I was first practicing dentistry I had the pleasure of treating a sweet 80 something “young” lady with a very sharp wit. One day as I came in to check on her after a cleaning, I asked her how she was enjoying her “golden years”. She didn’t bat an eye and replied, “Sonny, they may look golden but it’s actually rust”. Twenty five years later I find her response more and more accurate. I see this on a personal level but also witness patients struggle every day with the challenges to maintain a healthy mouth as the body changes.

One of the biggest issues as we get older is decay (cavities).Today we see more decay in older adults than we do in kids. Some causes for this are changes in our bodies and also in the environment of our mouth. Decay starts with acid. Acids are graded on the pH scale. The lower the pH number the stronger the acid. Water is neutral and has a pH of 7.0. Battery acid has a pH of 1.0. Any acid that has a pH of 5.4 or lower will start leaching minerals from teeth (starts decay or “cavities”). This loss of minerals leads to softening of the enamel so that it wears faster, and decay in the enamel and dentin (the root surfaces, which is softer than enamel). Just for conversation sake, a regular Pepsi has a pH of 2.49 as well as having a lot of sugar which will also be turned into acid by bacteria (bugs) in the mouth. Juices have the same problem with a low pH and a lot of sugar. Bottom line, foods that are acidic and/or have sugar lead to decay.

As we get older there are many changes in the body and the mouth in particular. Here are a few.

Decrease in saliva flow due to general aging as well as an increase in medications, the majority of which have the side effect of decreasing saliva. It is important to know that the saliva is critical in protecting the teeth. Saliva keeps the teeth slippery to prevent food from sticking. Saliva neutralizes (pH of saliva is 7.4) the acids that cause decay (cavities). Saliva actually repairs the teeth by providing minerals that can go back into the enamel (the outside shell of the tooth) and provides antibodies to decrease bacteria that produce acids.

Recession of the gums leading to exposed root surfaces. This not only exposes more of the softer tooth surface (dentin) to decay but also allows more nooks and crannies for food to collect. This food is then broken down by bacteria (bugs) in the mouth to produce acid. As long as the food is present the acid is being produced, plus, for twenty minutes after it is gone.

Decrease in dexterity to be able to keep teeth clean. Whether it is rheumatoid arthritis or just stiffness in the fingers, hands and wrists, it all makes it more difficult to clean the mouth.

Older restorations start breaking down through wear and tear. The longer we are around the more likely we are to have larger restorations which are also more difficult to maintain and are more likely to break down.

Decrease in taste sensation. For most individuals, the last taste buds working are the sweet ones. This many times leads to the proverbial “sweet tooth”. We eat more sweets because we can taste it. Every time we take a nibble of something sweet, the bacteria in our mouth continues to produce acids for twenty minutes after the sweetness is gone. So the frequency of the sweets has a greater influence on the amount of acid produced (leads to cavities) than the amount of sugar eaten.

Even though the cards are stacked against us as we get older, we can still fight back. Here are some suggestions that can help decrease decay.

Sip water. This will help clean the debris from around your teeth, dilute the acid (water has a pH of 7.0) in the mouth and increase the saliva flow and production.

Decrease snacking frequency. If you are going to snack, make the most of it and get it done.

Clean your mouth at least twice a day. This includes brushing, flossing and any special tools that help clean out those nooks and crannies (proxibrushes, sulca brushes, tooth picks or electric tooth brushes).

Use high concentration fluoride toothpastes (prescription strength from your dentist). If you use this right before bed without rinsing afterward, the fluoride sits around the teeth longer and is more effective at reducing decay.

Recent studies also now suggest the use of custom fit trays with bleaching gel (carbamide peroxide) in them for five minutes a day. These studies indicate an overall decrease of bacteria in the mouth as well as an increase in pH (neutralizing the acid).

Bottom line is that you can do a lot to help yourself. “Don’t wait till it hurts” because as we get older it usually won’t hurt until it is a major problem. Get into your dentist at least a couple of times a year and let them find any issue when it is still small. The best course is to prevent the “rust” but if that doesn’t work just get it taken care of early. Like every thing else as we age we need more maintenance. Welcome to the “Golden Years”!

Entry Filed under: Seniors Helping Seniors

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