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How to prevent losing teeth with age

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Joyce Teo on 08 Sep 2019

The Straits Times

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SINGAPORE - If you think brushing your teeth hard helps keep your teeth clean, think again.

 

Brushing our teeth too aggressively over prolonged periods to time can cause our gums to recede. It's one of the changes in the mouth that can accompany ageing.

 

"Don't use too much force when brushing. In general, you don't want to see the bristles splay out too quickly, like within three months," said Dr Tan Mei Na, an associate consultant at the National University Centre for Oral Health, Singapore.

 

Gum disease, which is usually undetected till the later stages, as it is largely symptom free, can also cause gums to recede.

 

"For most people, gum disease is usually detected in their middle to old age," said Dr Yang Jingrong, head of the Geriatric Special Care Dentistry Clinic at the National Dental Centre Singapore (NDCS).

 

Plaque is formed daily and can be brushed away with the right toothbrush and the right technique. If is it not removed, it forms tartar (hardened plaque). This results in gum infection and bone loss if left untreated.

 

"A soft toothbrush should be used. The brush should be placed at a 45 degree angle towards the gum line, and moved in a small circular action around the gum line," said Dr Yang.

 

A lifetime of chewing and biting can wear away the enamel, which is the hard, outer layer of your teeth.

 

The tooth wear may be more serious if you have certain habits like bruxism (grinding of teeth at night), clenching or often consume heavily fibrous foods.

 

Yellowing teeth is also part of the ageing process. Dr Tan said it's also to do with the build-up of dentine, which is the yellowish layer covered by the enamel, in the tooth and there's no need to do anything about it.

 

But if you want to, it's safer to head to a dentist because when you have tooth decay and you use products like gel and strips, which most likely contain bleach, it may aggravate your condition, said Dr Tan.

 

Whitening toothpaste may contain abrasives, but not bleach, she said.

 

Yet another change in the ageing mouth is increased dryness. It happens if your salivary glands in the mouth don't produce enough saliva. It can also happen when you take multiple types of medication, undergo hormonal changes (menopause), or have had chemotherapy and or radiotherapy treatment.

 

This increased dryness can potentially give rise to tooth decay, said Dr Yang.

 

She said an elderly patient with good oral hygiene and generally healthy gums and teeth can be seen at yearly intervals, just like a similar person of a younger age.

 

However, if they have certain medical conditions such as uncontrolled diabetes and previous chemotherapy and radiotherapy to the head and neck, they will be at higher risk of gum disease and tooth decay.

 

The dentist may then advise to see them every three to four months, she said.

 

This interval is also recommended for those who have conditions that may affect the level of oral hygiene in the mouth such as dementia and Parkinson's diesase, she said.

 

It's not hard to care for your teeth but not everyone does it right or makes enough effort to do so.

 

Many do not brush for at least two to three minutes and some do not floss their teeth once every day as they should.

 

Dr Yang said studies have shown that most people overestimate the amount of time spent on tooth brushing. This means they actually think they brush for a longer time than they should.

 

Dr Tan said that many people also think that it is natural to lose teeth with age. "But, in this day and age, it is possible for our teeth to outlive us, if you take care of them well."

 

Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.

 

 

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