Australians are keeping their natural teeth for longer than ever, but some oral health risks increase with age.
Knowing what oral health problems affect seniors can help you to take better care of your teeth and gums and to know when to see a dentist.
Whether you have your natural teeth or dentures, gum disease (periodontal disease) is the most common dental problem for seniors, affecting more than half of people over 65 according to the last National Survey of Adult Oral Health.
Gum disease starts as gingivitis, when the gums may look red or swollen or bleed when you brush your teeth. If gingivitis isn't treated, it can develop into periodontitis which can cause permanent damage and tooth loss.
You'll be at higher risk of gum disease if you smoke or have poor oral hygiene, or if you have a health condition such as heart disease, diabetes or osteoporosis. Gum disease can usually be treated in its early stage with good oral hygiene, but more advanced gum disease needs to be treated by a dentist.
Many people find that they start getting cavities again in old age. Tooth decay is the most common reason for getting a tooth extraction over the age of 65, if the tooth is too badly damaged to repair with a filling or root canal.
One reason for this is dry mouth, a condition that affects many seniors whose salivary glands stop producing the saliva needed to rinse and disinfect their mouths from bacteria. Dry mouth is a common side-effect of many medications and can also happen if you smoke or drink heavily.
Australians aged 65 and over had an average of 10.8 missing teeth in 2013, with almost 1 in 5 seniors having none of their natural teeth left. Missing teeth can affect your diet and speech, and your remaining teeth might go crooked if they're no longer supported on each side.
Teeth can be lost for many reasons, from tooth decay and gum disease to injuries. Your dentist will recommend replacing missing teeth with dentures, a dental bridge or dental implants to restore the appearance and function of your smile.
Although less common than other oral health problems, it's important to be aware of the possible signs of mouth cancer, as early treatment is more likely to be successful. This can include red or white patches in your mouth, ulcers that don't heal, a persistent sore throat and trouble swallowing.
Oral cancer is more common in older people, especially men. Your dentist should offer an oral cancer screening as part of your routine check-up, or you can request this.
How to lower your oral health risks
You can look after your teeth and gums and lower your risk of most dental problems by:
- brushing your teeth twice every day
- flossing once every day
- drinking enough water (especially tap water with fluoride)
- cutting down on sugar and alcohol
- quitting smoking
- visiting your dentist every 6 to 12 months for a check-up and clean, depending on your individual oral health needs
Do you need a dentist in Everton Park or Mitchelton?
If it's time for your check-up or you want to talk to a dentist for advice, contact your local Swish Dental clinic in Brisbane.
Call our Everton Park clinic on (07) 3355 1422 or our Mitchelton clinic on (07) 3354 3341.
 AIHW: Harford JE & Islam S 2013. Adult oral health and dental visiting in Australia: results from the National Dental Telephone Interview Survey 2010. Dental Statistics and Research Series no. 65. Cat. no. DEN 227. Canberra: AIHW.
 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.