• 4 - 35 Wolsley St., Kenora, ON P9N 0H8

Expected Dental Challenges - 80+ Years Old

Congratulations, you have made it to advanced years and still have many of your teeth!

The body at this point is often beginning to slow down a bit. Many parts of the body need a little extra care and the teeth are no exception. The old assumption that everyone has lost their teeth by this time is increasingly just not true. In fact, with the increased care that goes into teeth these days for the young people, a full complement of teeth will be even more common in the years to come for the 80+ crowd than it is today.

The teeth are often significantly reduced in strength by this point. Thankfully, usually maximum biting force is significantly reduced. Fractures continue and mouth opening becomes an increasing challenge to adequate home oral hygiene. A fluoride gel, electric toothbrush, floss holders, and more frequent professional cleanings are usually needed. Your teeth are designed to last longer than the rest of the body and with good care at home, regular professional cleanings, a reasonable diet, and generous use of fluoride, they will serve well throughout life.

For those who have full dentures, there are a few things to keep in mind as the years roll past. Full dentures stay in place because of the surface tension of water. Or, put another way, have you ever put water between two sheets of glass and tried to separate them? Those two pieces of glass are held together by nothing but the surface tension of the water between them, and they really stick. There are two major factors determining how much surface tension (holding power) you will get: 1) how much surface area you have, and 2) how closely adapted the two surfaces are. You may have noticed that the upper seems to almost suck into place, whereas the lower denture seems to float around staying in place by little more than the force of gravity. This is because the surface area of the lower is so much less than the surface area of the upper. Similarly, the surface of the denture and surface of the soft tissue have to be very close together with a covering of gums that is not too thick to get much surface tension between them. A loose fitting denture has more space between it and the gums underneath it than a tight fitting denture.

Over time, the bone under the denture where the teeth used to be will resorb (disappear). Bone on the lower arch disappears four times as fast as bone where the upper teeth used to be. About half of the bone that will disappear throughout life after the teeth come out will disappear in the first six months after the extractions are done. The other half takes many years to disappear. This is why a denture reline can replace much of the fit that the dentures used to have, because the reline restores the intimate fit between the surface of the denture and the surface of the soft tissue. Of course, a lower denture has much less surface area than an upper denture. That’s why the upper denture stays in a lot better than the lower.

Dentures should be cleaned every day. Plaque accumulates on a denture just like it does on teeth. If the plaque is left long enough on the denture, it will turn into calculus (tarter) on the denture just like it does on teeth. Brushing the denture every day with a toothbrush or a denture brush will remove plaque before it gets hard. Dentures can be left in or taken out at night depending on the patient. The dentures tend to fit better if they are left in, but many people cannot tolerate a denture in place 24/7 without developing denture sores. My advice is to leave it in at night unless it hurts. If the gums cannot tolerate continuous wear, take it out at night. Ask your dentist if you are not sure whether to take it out at night or leave it in. If taken out, a denture needs to be stored in water so the plastic doesn’t completely dry out. The shape of the denture acrylic changes some when it dries making the fit not as good if the dentures are not stored in water when they are removed over night. Also, if you are going to remove the denture at night, keep in mind that dogs think a denture is a real treat. Store them where pooch can’t get to them.

- This article was written by Dr. Mike Christensen and published in the Daily Miner and News, and Enterprise. Local Kenora News Publicatons (1998-2006)