The medicine of today, with its explosive new technologies and further discoveries, enables us to enjoy our life’s increased longevity along with a degree of health that was unimaginable before. Furthermore, genetic research promises to increase human life expectancy in the future even to a greater extent than we can even contemplate today. Researching of the aging process through dietary research, the molecular and nano-medicine and other departments of medical research is enabling us to understand the complexity and magnitude of the factors influencing a biological system such as our own body and its proper functions. From the dental perspective, the necessity of maintaining a properly functioning dental apparatus – the system of teeth, gums, chewing muscles, jawbone, etc. – over a much longer period of time than in the past, imposes itself as the newest and most important challenge of 21st century dentistry.
As we age, several mechanical, biological and physiological processes are starting to erode our dental apparatus. Our teeth are starting to show cracking lines, discolorations and grinding surfaces followed by loss of tooth structure, leading to discomfort and pain. Our gums, as we get older, will show the well known sign of recession, increasing exposure of the necks of our teeth– commonly referred to as being “long in the teeth”. One cannot avoid the fact that as teeth are aging, their structure will become increasingly brittle. It is a natural process leading to a slow erosion of their chewing surfaces if not helped.
The degradation of our gum structure will inevitably reduce the connection of our teeth to the jawbone, having the consequence of increased tooth mobility and, if not treated, irreversible decay and tooth loss.
In response to the daily stress of chewing, the muscles of our dental system will demonstrate increased and uncontrolled activity during the night and hours of sleep. The grinding, pressing and the generally categorized parafunctions will have a dramatic and very undesirable effect on our teeth and gums. Young people also grind their teeth but in an older age this extra activity in the night will be much more likely to fracture the less resistant dentition than in younger years.
On the other hand, a large number of diseases and afflictions will influence the aging dental apparatus, contributing even more to its destruction.
It is a well known fact that diabetes will affect your gums’ integrity considerably. Vitamin deficiencies of many kinds will influence our gums even more. It is important to know that the presently established facts in modern nutritional science show that our body must fight a permanent starvation in vitamin C – no matter how many fruits and vegetables are consumed or even if daily vitamins are taken regularly. The newly suggested intake of vitamin C is several times higher than the commonly suggested rate. Of course, the individual need must be established by your dietitian based on exact calculations and investigation.
A large variety of medicines can negatively affect our gums. Examples are countless but just a few to mention would include epileptic medications such as Dolantine, others like Cumadin will increase your gum bleeding. High blood pressure medication can reduce your saliva production; the resulting “dry mouth” can strongly affect your teeth and gums.
A most dramatic dental development of recent years was caused by medication prescribed to osteoporosis patients or preventively given to elderly female patients. This medicine was proposed to prevent the loss of calcium from the aging skeleton, however the effect on the human mandible (lower jaw) was just the opposite. Teeth will develop mobility as the supporting jawbone deteriorates until, finally, the patient loses teeth.
Dietary science today advances at an extraordinary rate. The antique perspective that food is medicine, and the careful observation of what we ingest on a daily basis, will represent a fundamental rule in the future. Knowing your food’s nutritional values and using it with respect and extreme care will definitely be the new way of life. This ideal totally and fundamentally opposes the previous and dangerous way of relying on medication to maintain health and ignoring the food we consume. It is the fact of the 21st century “green wave” that the less medication we take, the better we eat and the less weight we drag around on our bodies, the better our health will be.
In the evolution of dentistry for the aging population: to live longer is everyone’s goal and to keep your teeth in a healthy function for as long as you live is definitely the most desirable. We have today, in our modernized dentistry, a large variety of options to extend the life of our teeth in correlation to the newly increased life expectancy. Implants, crowns and bridges, painless and drill-less fillings, nonsurgical gum treatments, new types of flexible partials and dentures are just a few of the treatments your dentist can employ to extend the life of your teeth as we age.
Can the life of our teeth be extended over its traditional limit? The answer is definitely YES!
Discuss your options with your dentist and do not wait for a “better economic time”, teeth do not have a care for financial hardship nor will they wait until you are able to make them your first priority. Losing one tooth after the other, just because it is less expensive to extract them when pain is present, is definitely the least desirable option.
Talk with your dentist – develop a long term dental strategy – prioritize your treatment and ask for financial arrangements if needed.
© 2011 All Rights Reserved, Dr Florian Braich DDS PhD