It is difficult to keep an older adult's teeth and mouth healthy because age and health issues make them more vulnerable to dental problems. In the elderly, there are five common dental problems to look out for:
- Tooth decay
- Gum disease
- Receding gums
- Dry mouth
- Mouth cancer
Look out for these early symptoms to resolve issues sooner rather than later:
Toothache or dental pain in the elderly population is a key reason for visiting the dentist . Toothache refers to pain in the teeth and around the jaws and can lead to tooth decay. An abscess, meaning a collection of pus, will grow if tooth decay gets out of control. This can lead to inflammation within your gum, near your teeth, or in the pulp. The infection will spread to the brain in certain situations and can be life-threatening.
2. Sensitive teeth
If your teeth hurt while drinking hot or cold drinks, you may have sensitive teeth. Due to gum recession, these may be the consequence of:
- Tooth decay
- Fractured teeth
- Worn fillings
- Gum disease
- Worn tooth enamel
- Exposed tooth root.
Treatment may depend on the sensitivity source. When you are concerned about your teeth's responsiveness, visit the dentist for advice and treatment plans.
3. Bleeding or sore gums
Many older adults suffer from gum or periodontal disease, caused by plaque bacteria that irritate the gums, making them sore, raw, and more likely to bleed. This will lead to a condition called gingivitis, or inflamed gums . When you suffer from gingivitis, your gums can get sore, painful, and swollen. This is a common reason why your gums bleed when you brush them.
4. Mouth sores
Mouth sores or canker sores is also known as aphthous ulcers. It's a small, shallow lesion that occurs on your mouth's soft tissues or on the base of your gums. Canker sores are not contagious, but they can be unpleasant and can make it difficult to eat and talk . Nevertheless, in some cases, canker sores may indicate mouth cancer. Mouth cancer or oral cancer starts in the cells lining the mouth. Damaged cells can then grow uncontrollably to form a tumour . The tumour can grow the tongue surface, the inside of the cheeks, the mouth roof (palate), the lips, or the gums.
5. Bad breath
Bad breath is sometimes called halitosis. If someone has bad breath, it can be embarrassing, and can even cause anxiety in some cases. The causes of bad breath include certain foods, health conditions, and bad dental habits. In many cases, consistent proper dental hygiene can improve bad breath. If basic self-care methods do not fix the issue, visit a dentist or doctor to make sure bad breath is not caused by a more severe illness.
Bad breath is a common symptom of denture stomatitis or gum disease.
Most elders replace their damaged teeth with dentures or partials. Prolonged use of dentures can cause inflammation of the fragile tissue within the mouth and can also lead to infections. Denture stomatitis is caused by yeast, or a fungus called candida. If your loved one has bad breath while using dentures, please help them by ensuring that his or her dentures are put on properly and by ensuring that the dentures are washed according to the directions of a dental professional.
6. Jaw pain or popping
These symptoms can be caused by many factors and can make diagnosis difficult. Possible causes include issues with the sinus, toothache, inflammation, infection, teeth grinding, gingivitis or joint issues. Your dentist must conduct a detailed examination to determine the cause of the discomfort which could require X-rays.
7. Cracked or broken teeth
A cracked or broken tooth can occur for a number of reasons — breaky teeth, grinding of teeth, injury. The crack may be invisible to the naked eye and even to X-ray, but if left untreated, it can be incredibly painful and cause bigger problems. See the dentist if you feel discomfort when you chew.
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Dr Gerald Tan is a past president of the Aesthetic Dentistry Society of Singapore and Global Head, Novena Global LifeCare Dental Division and Founder of Elite Dental Group Singapore. Besides that, he has a special interest in bespoke cosmetic dentistry, dental implantology and digital smile design. In addition, he enjoys basketball, tennis and looking after his pet cockatoo in his free time.
Also, read more from Dr Gerald Tan in his Q&A here.