Oral health after 40: 5 changes you should make
As we move into our forties and beyond, we often make personal changes. We adopt new exercise regimes, change our working hours, modify our social life, and maybe even alter our hairstyle. But what about our teeth?
We look at the changes you should consider making to your dental health regime as you age.
1. Try interdental brushing
As we age, our gums start to naturally recede, often leaving a few more gaps between our teeth. Whilst most people brush the front-facing surfaces of their teeth relatively thoroughly, many of us don’t clean between our teeth effectively. Build-up of food and bacteria in these spaces that emerge in later life can cause gum disease.
Flossing, ideally once a day, is one way to guard against this. While it works for some people, others find flossing can be a little fiddly and awkward. As a result, interdental brushes are increasing in popularity as a way to help prevent gum disease by brushing away pieces of food and plaque from between the teeth. Their small bristled heads are designed to clean tight spaces, and are available in different widths to suit the sizes of the gaps.
2. Keep the mouth moist
Our susceptibility to what’s commonly called ‘dry mouth’ increases as we get older. Symptoms of dry mouth can include bad breath, cracking of the lips, difficulty swallowing and sticky saliva. Sometimes it can just be attributed to the natural ageing process. But dry mouth is cited as a potential side effect of hundreds of medications that we rely on more in middle age and later life.
Which means that, even for someone with impeccable oral hygiene, there’s a chance they’ll experience symptoms of dry mouth at some point. Getting into the habit of keeping your mouth moist throughout the day is key to fighting back. Sipping water – little and often – is something we can all do, and chewing sugar-free gum can help stimulate saliva production.
3. Reduce coffee, alcohol and tobacco intake
Limiting the amount of coffee, alcohol and tobacco we consume is a wise course of action at any stage in life. But in our forties and beyond, it becomes particularly important to control your intake. They can all exacerbate dry mouth, and over time can lead to teeth staining. This is caused by loss of surface enamel, which causes the teeth to look darker in colour.
But it’s not just about aesthetics. In general, with age comes increased risk of more serious health problems – and our mouths are no exception. Both alcohol and tobacco have been linked to oral cancers. People who use both are at a particularly high risk of the disease.
It’s certainly not the only reason to cut back on or eliminate these substances from your daily routine – there’s plenty of other wellbeing reasons to do so – but better oral health is certainly one of the benefits.
4. Switch to a good quality toothpaste
With increased susceptibility to plaque build-up between teeth, having a strong supporting cast of toothpaste and mouthwash at our disposal becomes more important when we reach middle age. In some communities, fluoride – one of the active ingredients of most toothpastes – can be found naturally in tap water. In those areas, research has shown there to be a far lower instance of tooth decay among the adult population.
A good quality fluoridated toothpaste and mouthwash are therefore must-haves to ensure that those creeping years don’t have an impact on the mouth. Your dentist can advise you on what strength toothpaste will be the most effective for you, but most fluoride-savvy adults look for toothpastes containing 1350 to 1550 ppm fluoride.
5. Visit the dentist more regularly
While everyone should be seeing their dentist twice a year where possible, the regularity of those visits becomes even more crucial as we age. Everyone has unique needs, and your dentist is your one source of treatment and guidance that is really tailored to you.
It’s important to get to know your dentist and get to know your mouth. Ask questions, seek advice from them, and raise anything you’re concerned about with them. As with most other parts of our body, it’s inevitable that our oral health gets a bit more complex as we age. So it’s crucial that you give your dentist the opportunity to identify and address any potential issues.
It’s worth remembering too that there’s plenty that dentists can do to make visits to their practice less daunting. So if the prospect fills you with dread, just let them know in advance.
It’s amazing how closely linked our oral health is with our entire wellbeing. As we get older, just a few small changes to how we care for our mouth and teeth can have a really transformative impact on our lives.
For more information on dental health, check out the All-Ireland Smiles campaign.
Sensodyne Rapid Relief Toothpaste contains fluoride for cavity protection and helps patients beat sensitivity pain fast. Spitting blood and bleeding gums can be caused by the build-up of plaque bacteria. Corsodyl Ultra Clean toothpaste, is specially formulated for people who spit blood when they brush. Both Sensodyne Rapid Relief and Corsodyl Ultra Clean Toothpaste contain 1450ppm fluoride. For more information, visit www.sensodyne.ie or www.corsodyl.ie.