Get Healthy Teeth For Life
For decades, Conni Sota left every dental checkup with a clean bill of health. But then came a string of troubles: first the “twinges” with cold drinks, then thinning gums. Inconsistent flossing got some of the blame, admits Sota, 51, who works in a Philadelphia-area law office. But the bigger culprit was age: “Teeth and gums are vulnerable to wear, and it’s during your 50s and 60s that problems often start to show up,” says Robert Palmer, MD, head of geriatrics at the Cleveland Clinic.
The good news: A few changes to your dental routine can help. Here, a few dental care tips for healthy teeth and the warning signs to watch for—and fixes that will keep your smile healthy.
Warning Sign: Twinges
Fluoridated water was less widespread when Sota was growing up, and there were no fluoride rinses. Without that protection, “most of us in this age group have fillings, and that’s where we often see cracks in patients over 50,” says Kimberly Harms, DDS, a consumer advisor for the American Dental Association. “When a tooth is repaired, it’s never as strong as the original.” But with age, even unfilled teeth become vulnerable to cracks. And those are prime breeding grounds for bacteria.
Another dental care tip, beware a common entry point: the gum line, where tissue recedes with age. “Decay here can become serious quickly because it’s close to the tooth’s nerve,” says Harms. “If you don’t prevent or catch it early, you could need a root canal.”
Fix it: Call your dentist if you feel even a slight twinge. It may take an x-ray to pinpoint the crack, which can be smoothed or filled. Larger breaks often require a full crown or cap.
Prevent it: Your best defenses: brushing, flossing, and using a fluoride rinse. (In one study, twice-daily rinsers had nearly one-third the risk of root cavities as did people who used fluoride toothpaste and a placebo rinse.) But avoid rinses with alcohol, says Margaret Lappan Green, RDH, past president of the American Dental Hygienists’ Association; they can irritate older gums.