Keep your teeth healthy in midlife and beyond
By Dr Mike Heffernan and Dr Toby Edwards-Lunn
Thankfully, there is now an enormous amount you can do to protect your teeth and keep them merrily chomping all the way to your 100th birthday and beyond. So to help you on your way, here is our seven-point dental health plan for the over 50s:
1. It’s never too late
It’s an unfortunate irony that most people visit the dentist regularly during childhood but fall out of this invaluable habit in their forties and fifties – just at the period in their lives when ageing teeth need the most care and attention. You should think of regularly visiting a dentist in later life as a bit like paying into a pension: it’s an investment in the future that will make you (and your smile) happier and healthier in the decades to come. In partnership with a hygienist, your dentist will be happy to create a bespoke plan for how to take preventative care of your teeth as they age.
2. Use an electric toothbrush…
Many older readers will have grown up using a traditional toothbrush and – used correctly – this can still be an effective method of brushing. However, we strongly recommend going electric, because electric toothbrushes do more of the hard work for you and are usually more efficient in removing that unwanted sticky plaque from the surface of your teeth.
3. ...and a magnifying mirror
Another essential purchase for your bathroom is a large magnifying mirror, so you can see precisely what you’re doing as you brush, especially in the areas of your mouth that are hard to reach.
4. Taking care of sensitive teeth
Many of our patients find that their teeth become more sensitive as they grow older. This is mostly because gum recession exposes the roots of our teeth, which are more sensitive to acidity and extremes of temperature. Using a desensitising toothpaste will certainly help. We also recommend taking a pea-sized quantity of desensitising toothpaste on your finger and rubbing it onto the sensitive area and leaving it overnight. Repeat this method for a month and you should feel a marked improvement.
5. The significance of saliva
As we approach our sixties, one of the little-known but highly significant changes to our body is that our mouths start to produce less saliva. This can have a serious impact on our dental health, as saliva is our first line of defence against tooth decay and halitosis. But don’t worry: there are several things you can do to compensate. First, stay hydrated. Second, try to stimulate your mouth to produce more saliva in the first place by chewing on gum or sucking on a mint or pastille. Though don’t forget: these must of course be sugar-free! This is our particular area of expertise. We helped to formulate Dr. Heff’s Remarkable Mints, a sugar-free dental health mint that stimulates saliva production, freshens breath and cleans teeth.
6. Looking after your dentures
Dentures can easily become a breeding ground for bacteria and sticky plaque, so cleaning them regularly is essential – using soap and water with a soft denture brush is ideal. It is also crucial to make sure that your dentures fit properly. While travelling on trains and buses, we often see people suffering with soreness on the corners of their lips (the medical name for this is ‘angular cheilitis’). This is usually caused by the support underneath a full set of dentures shrinking, so that part of the face and lips drop, which also makes people look older than they should. The solution is to go to see your dentist, who can improve the height and fit of your dentures so that they give your face and lips the correct support and eradicate any soreness of the lips.
7. Keeping your whites pearly
Thanks to decades of chewing, chomping, sucking and slurping, it’s no surprise that our teeth can become stained and discoloured over time. There are lots of over-the-counter products that promise cleaner, whiter teeth but, in fact, they merely remove superficial stains. Your dentist, on the other hand, can provide a whitening gel that will actually whiten your teeth, as well as offering a range of other treatments to rejuvenate them, including applying composite bonding (which is a tooth-coloured filling that masks discoloured parts of the tooth), veneers (which are ceramic facings applied to the front of the tooth for that whiter-than-white Hollywood smile) and crowns (which are complete ceramic restorations that cover the whole of the tooth).
• This article was originally published in The Daily Telegraph.