Cavities in the “Older” Population!

I recently took a class in Chicago about fighting cavities in older adults.  The baby boomers are now at retirement age.  Age brings problems that affect oral health and especially decay rates and patterns.  People over 70 are more likely to lose a tooth due to decay than to periodontal disease.

As we get older, our gums tend to recede (some people say “shrink”).  This recession causes root surfaces of the teeth to become exposed.  Root surfaces are not covered by enamel; they are made up of a softer material called dentin.  Dentin is more sensitive to temperature, more likely to be worn or eroded away and more susceptible to decay.  Many of you may have noticed that your teeth are more sensitive along the gums.  You may also find grooves or notches in your teeth in this same area.  This area is exposed dentin, where most decay occurs in the mature population.

Cavities begin when sugars break down and form acids that demineralize (soften) the teeth.  Our saliva plays a big part in how much decay we experience.  Saliva has what is called a pH which measures the amount of acid that is present.  Saliva with a low pH means the environment has more acid, and the decay process is more likely to occur.

Here’s the problem:  Dentin will decay in an environment of much less acid than enamel will.  This means that those of you whose saliva did not have enough acid for decay to begin on your enamel previously may now have a bigger cavity problem as the dentin is exposed.

So what do we do?  As your gums recede and root surfaces are exposed we need to work very hard at keeping these areas plaque free.  Meticulous brushing, flossing, the use of a Sonicare toothbrush and a Waterpik are all vital instruments in fighting decay.  Regular dental check-ups, fluoride treatments and home fluoride use are also extremely important.

Ask your hygienist if you have exposed dentin.  Let them know if your teeth seem more sensitive lately.  Listen to their advice about home care, brushing and flossing aids and the importance of fluoride as we get older.  We have knowledge and experience that can help you keep your teeth healthy and decay free.  We are here to help!

Watch for my blog next month when I will talk about how dry mouth can also affect your decay rate.

Thanks for Reading,

Dr. Bruce