Do We Outgrow Tooth Decay?
posted: Mar. 21, 2023.
Short answer: No. But, since an answer that short is hardly worth the time it took you to click on the link, allow us to explain further!
We tend to think of tooth decay as something we leave behind with childhood. And, while it’s true that youthful cavities are unfortunately common, older adults face unique challenges of their own which put them at risk for cavities.
Gum tissue often recedes with age. And our roots, which were once completely covered and protected by gum tissue, become partially exposed to plaque, acidic foods, and the abrasive effects of heavy-handed brushing.
This is a problem. Instead of enamel, a substance called cementum covers and protects our roots. But cementum isn’t as strong as enamel, and so our roots are much more vulnerable to the cavity-causing bacteria in plaque, erosion from dietary acids, and damage caused by abrasive brushing. Root cavities also progress faster than crown cavities, which can mean a root canal procedure in your future, or, even worse, an extraction if a cavity isn’t treated promptly.
What can you do to avoid root cavities?
- Do what you do to avoid any cavity—brush at least twice a day for two minutes, use floss to clean between the teeth and along the gumline, and use a fluoride toothpaste.
- Fluoride treatments can be applied to the exposed root area for added protection. Ask your dentist about this option.
- Take care of your gum health. See the doctor regularly, and, if you have serious gum disease, a visit to your periodontist might be in order.
- Always use a soft toothbrush. Even a brush with medium bristles can be too firm for teeth and gums.
As we age, our dental restorations age as well. Over time, fillings can become loose, erode, or crack, which can lead to cavities under or around these damaged restorations. Bacteria can reach beneath a loose filling—your toothbrush can’t.
What can you do to prevent cavities in these hidden spots?
- Keep up with your dental checkups. Part of each dental exam is checking the condition of your dental restorations.
- Visit Dr. Susan A. Hockaday Family Dental Practice if you notice any sign of tooth decay, including tooth pain, sensitivity, or discoloration.
- If you discover a loose, cracked, or lost filling, even without any discomfort, call the doctor right away. A timely replacement filling can prevent hidden decay from seriously damaging a tooth.
Dry mouth, or xerostomia, occurs when our bodies don’t produce their normal amount of saliva. Saliva, of course, is vital for healthy and comfortable eating—it helps us swallow, digest, and taste our food. And it also has dental benefits! Saliva helps neutralize the acidic foods we eat, washes away food particles and bacteria, and contains minerals like calcium and phosphorus which remineralize tooth enamel.
Many medical conditions (including diabetes and high blood pressure), medical treatments (such as chemotherapy and radiation), and medications (both prescribed and over the counter) can reduce normal saliva production.
What can you do to restore saliva production?
- Drink fluids as recommended, especially water.
- Chew gum. Sugarless gum encourages saliva. Sucking on sugar-free candies works as well.
- Brush regularly with fluoride toothpaste, and ask about fluoride rinses.
- Talk to the doctor. There are medications available that can help.
Keeping up with our dental health is important at any age. Brushing and flossing, fluoride toothpaste, regular dental exams and cleanings at our Charlotte, North Carolina dental office—the basics of dental health don’t change over time, even if our dental challenges are a bit different as we get older. After all, do you ever outgrow an attractive, healthy smile? This answer is short and sweet: never.