Hi! I'm Kyle Hornby and I'm a Family Dentist in Kitchener-Waterloo. One of my favourite things to do is to write articles about teeth and dental care that you won't find anywhere else on "the web". Today, I'm going to talk about why its much harder to maintain your teeth as you age. I'm confident you'll come away from this article with a better understanding of how to maintain your teeth so that you can save money on treatment!
Dental breakdown is a cumulative process. Generally, on average, dental problems lead to a higher risk of further dental problems. This is not always the case as there are exceptions to any rule but problems tend to bring on more problems.
What do I mean specifically?
Well, for example, if you lose one or more teeth, the remaining teeth have to shoulder the same chewing forces and wear and tear. Fewer teeth shouldering the same load can lead to cracking of teeth and structural breakdown.
Another example is that dental fillings can breakdown over time, begin to leak and require maintenance in the form of dental filling replacement.
So, it's best to avoid the need for dental work early on in life (this is not always easy to acheive) to minimize cumulative problems later on.
Ultimately, your teeth are less resistant and more prone to issues later on in life for a number of reasons. Today, I'll discuss 3 reasons why this is the case...
You lose gum attachment around your teeth as you age. This comes in the form of gum recession and also losing the gum tissue that fills spaces in between your teeth. Sometimes, you'll also lose supporting jaw bone from around your teeth as you age.
Why does this matter?
One of the major risks for tooth decay and cavities is having food traps around and between your teeth. The gum tissue that fills spaces between your teeth keeps food out. When you floss, you're removing dental plaque only, under the best of circumstances. But, as we age, gaps that used to be filled with gum tissue start to develop and these allow larger food bits to trap between your teeth.
Most commonly, patients begin to notice large strands of fibrous foods like meats and vegetables trapping between their teeth. These are not always easy to remove with a single pass-through with dental floss.
When food traps between teeth like this, it can cause rapid decay and cavity formation. Earlier in life, when gum tissue fills these spaces, it's much less of an uphill climb to keep teeth decay-free.
Suggestions to combat this food impaction include more frequent flossing, using Waterpiks and other irrigating devices (like Monoject or Elbow Syringes) and using proxabrushes (just ask your Kitchener Dentist for these) to better remove plaque and food strands from between teeth.
You accumulate cracks in your teeth as you age. These cracks are typically small and only extend within the outer enamel shell of your teeth. Sometimes, they can deepen into the second layer of the tooth, called dentin. When this happens, they can lead to recurrent pain when biting or chewing.
Why do cracks matter?
Well, beyond possibly leading to chewing pain, cracks can allow bacteria and contaminants to leak into your teeth. In some cases, this results in stain accumulation and this doesn't require treatment.
But, if contaminants and bacteria leak inward and start to cause tooth decay, you may be in need of dental fillings.
Cracks can also spread over years and if a couple of cracks find each other, or connect, the overlying tooth structure can break off. When someone breaks a piece off of their tooth on a crouton or popcorn kernel, it's usually because a couple of cracks found each other.
Removing cracks is rarely possible because, as you drill to remove them, you create stress and they deepen. So, you usually can't "catch up" to them. Also, trying to remove and fill all the cracks that accumulate over time would be super-aggressive and lead to a bunch of unnecessary dental treatment.
In over 90% of cases, cracks never lead to any symptoms or need for reparative work.
But, occasionally, they lead to dental decay or a tooth fracture and, in our patients, we see the incidence of this increasing with age.
One thing that you can do to minimize cracking is to catch any additional unecessary tooth function (like grinding and clenching or chewing on pens) and try to stop it. If, like many people, you're grinding and clenching your teeth at night, then a soft acrylic night guard will provide cushioning and prevent cracking.
Once you sustain a fracture, your tooth will (in most cases) still be salvageable. Reinforcing a weakened tooth with a dental crown can help to prevent further structural loss.
This last section is indirectly about changes in your teeth as you age. It's more about changes elsewhere in the mouth and how that adversely affects your teeth. As we age, we can expect a natural decline in saliva production. This can be made even worse by certain medications that people may start to take to combat blood pressure issues, anxiety and a myriad of other medical challenges.
So, how does that affect our teeth?
At this point, a brief review of what saliva does will probably be helpful.
Saliva does a lot of great things for us including breaking down food and plaque so it can be carried away from teeth and it's also loaded with calcium and phosphorus which can mineralize and strengthen our enamel.
That means that if we lose saliva, we're stuck with more food around our teeth to feed the harmful bacteria that cause decay. It also means we have less enamel-strengthening capacity to offset decay and cavities.
This at least partially explains why we see an uptick in certain kinds of tooth decay as patients age.
How can you combat this?
I'm definitely not going to suggest that you stop taking medications prescribed by your doctor. But, what you can do is look at salivary substitutes like Biotene (available at most local pharmacies). These will help to break down and clear out more dental plaque to minimize tooth decay.
Another tip is to try to (where possible) brush after every meal so that food and plaque that can cling to teeth in a dry mouth get stripped off and cleared away.
While it can become more challenging to maintain your teeth as you age, knowing what needs to be done and how you can elevate your oral hygiene game will go a long way toward great oral health. I hope you've found our tips to be helpful and my fingers are crossed that they'll save you money and minimize your time in the dental chair.
By Dr. Kyle Hornby, Kitchener-Waterloo, Dentist
Our Dentist Office is located in Downtown Kitchener, Ontario. We are a short drive away for families in Waterloo, Breslau & St. Jacobs. Our central location means we truly offer family dental care near you!
This article is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Accordingly, always seek the advice of your Dentist or other healthcare providers regarding a dental condition or treatment.