Why Seniors Are at an Increased Risk for Root Cavities

Did you know that older adults develop new cavities more often than younger populations? That includes both cavities on the crown surface (the top portion of the tooth covered by enamel) and the root surfaces of the teeth, which touch your gums.

“Root cavities” (also called root decay) can be particularly dangerous because they spread faster than other types of cavities, and because they can be difficult to treat.

Root cavities grow even faster if there is a lack of preventive care, such as daily brushing and gum care. Other factors, such as a diet high in carbohydrates and poor gum and bone health can also contribute to the formation of root cavities.

What You Should Know About Root Cavities

  • Receding gums expose root surfaces of our teeth. As we age, it’s common for our gums to “pull away” or recede from the teeth. This exposes portions of the root surfaces, leaving them more vulnerable to germs that cause decay.
  • Teeth become more vulnerable as we age. Thanks to many advances in dentistry and oral health, adults are often able to keep their natural teeth longer than older generations. An unfortunate side effect is that natural teeth have more time to develop cavities.
  • Saliva changes as we age. Older adults often experience changes in the saliva they produce, both in amount as well as composition. For example, dry mouth is a common side effect of medications, which can make food and plaque more likely to stick to your teeth.
  • Mobility changes can make regular brushing and flossing difficult. Because aging sometimes comes with illnesses and disabilities that reduce mobility, it can become challenging to keep up with routine mouth care. As a result, teeth may be exposed to plaque and other germs for longer periods of time.

7 Steps to Reduce Your Risk of Root Cavities

  1. Brush thoroughly twice a day for two minutes with toothpaste containing fluoride. Always use a soft toothbrush.
  2. Carefully clean between the teeth with dental floss or a water flosser.
  3. If you have an illness or disability that makes it difficult to manually brush your teeth, consider switching to an electric toothbrush.
  4. Rinse with a fluoride mouthwash each night before bed. After using the rinse, avoid drinking water for at least 30 minutes to ensure the fluoride has a chance to work.
  5. If you’re experiencing dry mouth, talk to your dentist about treatment options such as an over-the-counter moisturizing mouthwash or saliva replacement.

    Use a non-alcoholic rinse with fluoride.
  6. Avoid sugary, unhealthy snacks. Instead, try eating more fruits, vegetables and whole grain foods.
  7. Visit your dentist and dental hygienist at least twice a year to keep up with regular exams, cleanings and treatment.

About the Author

Nancy Stannert

The information on this article is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Tooth Wisdom® and Oral Health America do not recommend or endorse any specific dentists, products, procedures, opinions, or other information mentioned. See full Terms & Conditions.

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