There is much to contend with as we grow older, including a higher risk for dental disease. One possible contributing factor: dry mouth from a lack of saliva.
Also known as xerostomia, dry mouth occurs when the salivary glands secrete less than the normal two to four pints a day. Saliva performs a number of functions, but perhaps the most important for dental health is as an acid neutralizer. Within a half hour to hour after eating, saliva can restore the mouth's normal pH level to prevent acid from softening tooth enamel. When there isn't enough saliva, acid levels stay high leading to erosion of the enamel. This vastly increases the chances for tooth decay.
Although there are several causes for dry mouth, one of the more common is as a side effect from certain medications. It's estimated over 500 drugs — many taken by seniors — can cause dry mouth, including diuretics for high blood pressure and heart failure, antidepressants, and antihistamines. Some diseases like diabetes or Parkinson's may also reduce saliva flow, as well as radiation and chemotherapy.
If you've developed chronic dry mouth, there are some things that may help restore adequate saliva flow. If medication is the cause you can talk to your doctor about an alternative medication or add a few sips of water before swallowing the pills and a full glass afterwards. You should also drink plenty of non-caffeinated beverages (water is the best) during the day and cut back on sugary or acidic foods. And a cool-air humidifier running while you sleep may also help keep your mouth moist.
We may further recommend an over-the-counter or prescription stimulant for saliva. For example, xylitol, a natural alcohol sugar that's found in many gums and mints, has been found to stimulate saliva and reduce the risk of tooth decay as an added benefit.
Last but not least, be sure to brush and floss daily to remove disease-causing plaque and see us at least twice a year for cleanings and checkups (if your mouth is very dry, three to four times a year is a better prevention program). Managing chronic dry mouth along with proper oral hygiene will help ensure your mouth continues to stay healthy as you grow older.
If you would like more information on the causes and treatment for dry mouth, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Dry Mouth.”
Academy Award-winning actress Kathy Bates knows how important it is to present your best face to the world — and one of the most important features of that face is a beaming smile. But there came a point when she noticed something was a little off. “I've always had good teeth, but it seemed to me as I was getting older that they weren't looking as good,” Kathy explained in a recent interview with Dear Doctor magazine.
That's when she decided it was time to take action. Kathy had orthodontic treatment when she was in her fifties, and she keeps her smile bright with tooth whitening treatments. She uses a kit provided by her dentist with a safe, effective whitening solution.
Of course, a bright, healthy smile looks great anywhere — whether you're on the red carpet or “off the grid.” And you don't have to be a Hollywood star to have professional whitening treatments. In fact, teeth whitening is one of the most popular and affordable cosmetic treatments modern dentistry offers.
The basic options for professional teeth whitening include in-office bleaching or take-home kits. Both types of dentist-supervised treatments offer a safe and effective means of getting a brighter smile; the main difference is how long they take to produce results. A single one-hour treatment in the office can make your teeth up to ten shades lighter — a big difference! To get that same lightening with at-home trays, it would take several days. On the plus side, the take-home kit is less expensive, and can achieve the same results in a bit more time.
It's important to note that not all teeth can be whitened with these treatments. Some teeth have intrinsic (internal) stains that aren't affected by external agents like bleaches. Also, teeth that have been restored (with bonding or veneers, for example) generally won't change color. And you can't necessarily whiten your teeth to any degree: Every tooth has a maximum whiteness, and adding more bleach won't lighten it beyond that level. Most people, however, find that teeth whitening treatments produce noticeable and pleasing results.
What about those off-the-shelf kits or in-the-mall kiosks? They might work… or they might not. But one thing's for sure: Without a dentist's supervision, you're on your own. That's the main reason why you should go with a pro if you're considering teeth whitening. We not only ensure that your treatment is safe — we can also give you a realistic idea of what results to expect, and we will make sure that other dental problems aren't keeping you from having a great-looking smile.
How often does Kathy Bates see her dentist for a checkup and cleaning? “I go about every four months,” she noted. “I'm pretty careful about it.” And if you've seen her smile, you can tell that it pays off. If you would like more information about teeth whitening, please contact us or schedule an appointment. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Important Teeth Whitening Questions Answered” and “Teeth Whitening.”