Keep Smiling after 50

50 on the beachIf you’re over 50, you probably have new aches and pains every day. That’s just life. Sure, Madonna has graced the cover of AARP, but honestly, she probably has the same issues. Quality of life is the key to staying on top of your game once you’re over the hill… and a few miles down the path.

Oral health plays a big role in overall health, and overall health contributes to good quality of life. So, taking care of your mouth is important. The dentist can help keep your smile pearly white, super clean, and functioning comfortably, so you can retain your natural teeth long into your golden years, if not forever. (A dentist can even help with sleep disorders, chronic headaches, and TMJ pain!)

People over 50 should watch out for these common oral health hiccups:

Bruxism – Teeth Grinding

  • One study shows that 8% of adults suffer from bruxism
  • Estimates show that 3.6 million oral splints are produced annually

People who are stressed are more likely to grind their teeth. Improperly aligned jaw joints (TMJ disorder) can also contribute to this destructive habit. In many situations, “bruxers” don’t know they grind their teeth. A husband or wife usually notices the problem while the bruxer is sleeping. The dentist can look at your teeth and determine if they’re worn and damaged from bruxing. Wear a custom-made nightguard, you’ll grind no more. Learn more about bruxism at the AGD’s Know Your Teeth website for dental patients.

Tooth Decay – Cavities – Dental Caries

  • Between 29% and 59% of adults over the age of 50 experience caries
  • 90% of adults have experienced dental caries

While a cavity can develop on any tooth, any time, for grownups, cavities tend to show up near former cavities, where dental work begins to deteriorate. Without treatment, tooth decay can lead to internal infection or tooth loss. You’ve heard it your entire life, but maybe your memory ain’t quite what she used to be: Brush twice a day, floss once a day, visit your dentist and hygienist twice a year, and promptly follow through with restorative treatment. Read what the ADA has to say to patients regarding dental caries prevention.

Periodontal/Gum Disease

  • 70% of tooth loss is attributed to gum disease
  • 75% of all Americans over 35 have some form of gum disease
  • People with gum disease are twice as likely to develop heart disease and type 2 diabetes
  • 30% of people over 50 have an advanced stage of gum disease

Want some good news? You obviously have enough tech savvy to use the computer, so feel good about yourself. Now for more bad news. The older you get, the more likely you’ll experience gingivitis or a more severe form of gum disease. Of course, heredity, stress, some medications, bruxism, hormone changes, tobacco use, diabetes, (deep breath), other systemic diseases, poor diet, obesity, and dry mouth can contribute to developing gum disease. While early-stage gum disease may require only a change in routine, most moderate cases should be treated with deep cleaning, or scaling and root planing. Antibiotic therapy with products such as Arestin can also help. More severe periodontal disease, called periodontitis, may require surgical treatment. Visit for a free risk assessment.

Oral Cancer

  • Approx. 30,000 Americans are diagnosed each year with oral cancer
  • Approx. 8000 Americans die each year from oral cancer
  • Oral cancer rates increase after 50 years of age and peaking between 60 and 70

Risk factors for oral cancer include using tobacco and drinking alcohol, but anyone can develop the condition. As with many health concerns, older patients are more prone to the disease – particularly current or former smokers. Fortunately, early detection at dental checkups can allow for early intervention, which could literally save your life. Modern dental technology has given us ViziLite, VELscope, and Identafi, systems that allow us to see potentially cancerous cells before they reach the surface of the mouth and cause visible lesions. Visit the Oral Cancer Foundation online for more info.

Dry Mouth – Xerostemia

  • Normal saliva production is 4-6 cups a day for an adult
  • Dry mouth can contribute to oral pain, bad breath, gum disease, and tooth decay

Truth is, with every birthday, you produce less saliva. Maybe it’s the increasing number of candles you have to extinguish each year. Just kidding. Declining saliva flow is a normal part of aging. Some medications also reduce saliva production, as do radiation treatment and diabetes. While spit may seem gross, it’s nature’s industrial oral cleanser. Without sufficient saliva, your mouth will feel like a desert. You’ll also be more prone to gum disease and cavities because bacteria aren’t washed out of your mouth with your spit. If you have “cottonmouth,” stop sucking on mints and talk with the dentist or your physician. Learn more and take a quick assessment at

Click here to visit Be a Smart Mouth, a website from Awareness Colorado! That provides information about oral health concerns for people over the age of 50.