Australians are generally living longer and healthier lives, but many of us don't take as much care of our teeth as we should.
Missing teeth, infected gums and other oral health problems don't just affect your ability to eat normally and your appearance. They can also be linked to serious health problems elsewhere in your body.
Read on to find out which dental problems are more likely to affect seniors, and whether your lifestyle habits could be putting your oral health – and your general health – at risk.
Periodontal disease, commonly known as gum disease, affects people of all ages, but it's more common with age. The Australian National Survey of Adult Oral Health 2004–2006 found that over half of people aged 65 and over (53.4%) had moderate or severe periodontal disease.
If your gums are red, swollen, itchy or bleed when brushed, these may be symptoms of gum disease. This inflammation of the gums can usually be treated by improving your oral hygiene or visiting your dentist to remove plaque from your teeth and gums. If gum disease isn't treated, it could eventually damage the gums, jaw and the supporting structures of teeth, causing teeth to loosen and fall out.
There is evidence that gum disease may also linked to other serious health conditions such as atherosclerosis, pneumonia and diabetes complications. Smoking increases the risk factor for developing gum disease and other oral health problems.
Teeth can become lost in accidents or as a result of oral health problems such as gum disease and tooth decay. According to the 2013 National Dental Telephone Interview Survey, Australians over 65 had an average of 10.8 missing teeth, with 19% of seniors having no natural teeth remaining.
If you're missing one or more teeth, your dentist can discuss options to restore the strength, function and appearance of your smile. These can include dental implants, a fixed bridge or removable dentures. Your dentist will explain what each treatment involves and what risks may be involved so you can make a decision that's right for you.
The risk of developing oral cancer – cancers affecting soft tissues in and around the mouth – increases with age. However, if you smoke and drink alcohol, your risk factor could be even greater. Smokers are thought to be nine times more likely to develop oral cancer than non-smokers, while drinking to excess can increase this risk further.
Starting in middle age, annual oral cancer screenings are recommended. These may be performed by your dentist as part of your regular check-up, or they may refer you to another practitioner. Regular screening improves the chance of oral cancer being detected early when it may be easier to treat.
How to look after your oral health
Most oral health problems can be prevented by taking good care of your teeth and gums and following good oral hygiene. Dentists recommend that you:
- Brush your teeth twice a day
- Floss between your teeth daily
- Cut down on tobacco, alcohol and sugar
- Keep up with your scheduled dental appointments
Talk to our dentists in Sydney CBD
Whether you're due for a check-up or you want to talk to a dentist, contact our friendly team at Sydney CBD Dental today.
Call our George Street dentists on (02) 9232 3900 or make an appointment online.
 Australian Dental Association. Lifestyle Risks (65+) [Online] 2017 [Accessed September 2018] Available from: https://www.ada.org.au/Your-Dental-Health/Older-Adults-65/Lifestyle-Risks-(1)
 Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW): Chrisopoulos S, Harford JE & Ellershaw A 2016. Oral health and dental care in Australia: key facts and figures 2015. Cat. no. DEN 229. Canberra: AIHW.
 Healthdirect. Gum disease [Online] 2017 [Accessed September 2018] Available from: https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/gum-disease
 Healthdirect. Mouth cancer [Online] 2018 [Accessed September