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Taking care of your teeth as you age

What To Do With Your Mouth When You Get Really Old

As the years go by, many people live long enough that it becomes very difficult for them to take adequate care of their teeth.  It is a fact that as we age, the same effort expended to clean our teeth when we were 30 is not nearly enough at 70. Couple this with the fact that manual dexterity decreases late in life, and you can see that unless something is done differently, the teeth are sure to sustain damage.

Usually people can maintain their mouths without anything but a toothbrush and floss until into their 70's. After that on a lot of people, salivary flow often becomes quite a bit less than it was and manual dexterity often declines beyond the level that can reliably prevent decay and periodontal disease.

Of course, someone could help by completing the brushing and flossing for the person, but more often than not, no one presents himself to complete this tedious and often unpopular task. Thankfully, there are other solutions. Fluoride applied topically is a great way to go and is often all that is needed at least for a few years. The kind of fluoride I am talking about is a 5000 parts per million concentration. A common product that is easily found in our area at pharmacies is Prevident. This kind of product has five times the fluoride as regular toothpaste and is available without a prescription in Canada. Put a ball about the size of a small pea on your toothbrush. Brush and floss the way you normally would, spit, and don't rinse. This is most effective just before bed, but works far better than brushing with regular toothpaste any time of the day.

If you are still getting cavities using a brush on product with high fluoride like I have just described, talk with your dentist. Here is one of the more aggressive solutions.  Custom fitted trays (similar to two hockey mouth guards--one on top, one on bottom) are made, and a high dose fluoride is placed in the tray (mouth guard). The trays are placed in the mouth for 5 minutes a day while the patient leans over the sink. The trays are taken out after the five minutes of use and rinsed.  The patient spits the extra fluoride material into the sink. Using this method, virtually all decay can be prevented even with far less than adequate brushing and little or no floss. This is pretty invasive (a pain in the neck), but it is exceptionally effective.

There are other products that are very powerful anti decay agents for use with combative patients or people who cannot or will not brush or allow their teeth to be brushed. These products often discolour teeth so are used only when brushing cannot be accomplished.   One thing that is certain, without preventive action in excess of what came earlier in life, the last decade of life will have some inconvenient and expensive dental problems. If you would like to know more about how to prevent late in life dental problems, ask your dentist how to do it.

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

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