It's a common misconception that all elderly adults lose their teeth and end up needing implants or dentures eventually. However, this is not the case. Many elderly adults do experience tooth loss and end up needing partial or complete dentures, but this is not a regular part of aging. Rather, it's the result of suffering from untreated gum disease for years.
Gum Disease and Tooth Loss
The gums help anchor teeth in the mouth. They serve as the first level of protection from bacteria in the mouth, preventing these bacteria from reaching the deeper tissues, such as the bones and ligaments, that play even more important roles in keeping the teeth in the mouth. Gum disease is a bacterial infection of the gums, and if that infection is not treated, it often spreads to the deeper tissues, eroding those ligaments and bones until they are no longer able to support the teeth.
The Progression of Gum Disease
Gum disease starts off as a rather minor problem. It causes the gums to bleed easily and appear slightly swollen. Since these are minor symptoms, many patients don't worry about them or see treatment. However, as gum disease progresses, its symptoms become more severe. Gaps form between the gums and the teeth, and the gums begin to recede, causing more of the teeth to be visible. Some patients with advanced gum disease experience pussy secretions coming from their gums and suffer from bad breath.
Unfortunately, as gum disease progresses, it gets harder to treat. Patients also often become embarrassed by the symptoms of advanced gum disease, and therefore they fail to seek treatment. Eventually, their teeth fall out, and they finally see a dentist because they have trouble eating or are in severe pain.
Treating Gum Disease to Prevent Tooth Loss
If gum disease treatment is begun as soon as symptoms appear, tooth loss can be prevented. At the first sign of bleeding, sensitive gums, patients should begin brushing and flossing more often. A professional cleaning should be scheduled with a dentist or dental hygienist; this removes bacteria-laden plaque that has become stuck on the teeth, which helps stop gum disease in its tracks.
When it comes to treating gum disease, it's always better late than never. Even patients with gum disease that has progressed to the point that the gums are receding and forming pockets should not hesitate to seek dental care. Procedures such as root planing, which removes bacteria from the surface of the tooth roots, and taking oral antibiotics can help finally fight the infection that causes gum disease and hopefully reduce the risk of tooth loss.
If you want to keep your natural teeth until the day you die, the time to start caring for your gums is now. Make sure you're brushing twice per day for 2 minutes, and floss between all of your teeth daily. If you think you may be suffering from gum disease, contact your dentist. Waiting will only increase your risk of needing dentures or dental implants when you're older.