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Seniors and Gum Disease: Sorting Fact From Fiction

 Even though teeth are meant to last a lifetime, many seniors lose them to periodontal disease (gum disease). For some seniors, it’s because they don’t realize there’s anything they can do to prevent it. Thinking gum disease is a normal part of aging is just one of a few myths worth correcting. And if you’re hoping to keep your teeth healthy as you age, it’s easy to understand why you want to learn more. The better informed you are, the easier it will be to take steps to prevent gum disease or get it treated early on.

Myth #1: I’ll eventually get gum disease, since it’s a natural part of aging.

Fact: Gum disease is not an inevitable effect of aging. Gum disease is caused by a build up of dental plaque — and that can happen to seniors and teens alike. Gum disease is more common in seniors who face changes such as receding gums and a faster build up of plaque. Other factors such as smoking, dry mouth and taking certain medications can increase the risk of periodontal disease in seniors even more.

Myth #2: Gum disease isn’t that serious and will go away on its own.

Fact: Gum disease develops slowly over time and may not show symptoms along the way. But that doesn’t make it any less serious for seniors. Plus, the disease will not resolve by itself. What starts with a little redness of the gums and bleeding can develop into pockets around the base of the teeth, which eventually become loose and fall out. The only way to remove plaque deep under the gums is with regular dental cleanings.

Myth #3: I’ll spot the signs of gum disease before it gets too severe.

Fact: Gum disease isn’t easy to detect, especially early on. In fact, many seniors don’t know that they have periodontal disease because it has been developing slowly over time. That’s why regular dental visits are so important. A professional deep cleaning will remove any plaque build up in places you might not be able to reach on your own.

Myth #4: I shouldn’t worry if my gums bleed when I brush my teeth.

Fact: Your gums shouldn’t bleed when you brush or floss. Bleeding gums are one of several signs of periodontal disease. Other signs include:

  • Red, swollen or tender gums
  • Sores in your mouth
  • Gums that are pulling away from the teeth
  • Persistent bad breath (halitosis)
  • Pus between your teeth and gums
  • Loose or separating teeth
  • Changes in the way your teeth fit together when you bite
  • Any change in the fit of partial dentures

Myth #5: Gum disease doesn’t have anything to do with the rest of my health.

Fact: The bacteria released with chronic oral infections can spread and contribute to disease in other parts of the body. Gum disease is linked to several other health conditions in seniors, including coronary heart disease and stroke. Having periodontal disease makes it more difficult for people with diabetes to manage their blood sugar levels. It can also pose a threat to people with respiratory diseases or osteoporosis.

If you have gum disease, your dentist may recommend scaling and root planing. This non-surgical gum disease treatment involves removing dental plaque and dental calculus in the pockets around the tooth and smoothing the root surfaces. More advanced cases of gum disease may require surgical dental treatment.

Your best defense in the battle against periodontal disease is practicing prevention. Regular brushing and flossing combined with a balanced diet, regular dental visits and professional teeth cleanings will improve your odds of fending off gum disease.

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