Dr Darryl Marsh writes… In this blog I want to talk about our golden years. If you do not have good health, if you are in pain or cannot eat and chew comfortably or smile without embarrassment, then your ‘golden years’ may not be quite so golden.
“Food is one of the few enduring pleasures in life and as you become older, the pleasure of eating often becomes one of the highlights of the day.”
Is losing my teeth inevitable as I get older?
In the last 21 years that I have been in practicing dentistry on Brisbane’s Northside, there are few sadder things I’ve witnessed than someone with dentures that they are unable to eat with…
Dentures you can’t eat with – a problem that affects more than just chewing
These patients are embarrassed to eat out with their family because it takes them so long to chew anything, or they can’t find anything on the menu soft enough to manage. Or when they do, their dentures jump up and down whilst they are talking or eating. They no longer eat apples or steak and have restricted their diet to soft and sloppy foods.
To have to tell them that there is nothing I or anyone else can do to help them is hugely frustrating and disappointing.
Fortunately with today’s technology and treatments almost everyone can have teeth that allow them to chew properly, speak clearly and smile without being embarrassed – provided they seek help at the right time.
The people that we can’t help are those who have left things go so long that there is no foundation to build upon.
The common dental problems experienced with age
We know from recent research that many people experience a range of new dental problems during their senior adult years. These include:
- teeth cracking and breaking due to being weakened by old silver fillings
- receding gums and loss of jawbone which causes teeth to become loose
- a sharp rise in tooth decay, especially where the gums have receded
- ‘burning’ gums and dry mouth syndrome due to changes in the saliva.
These are often the result of changes in general health or from the medications you may be taking. These changes lead many people to lose their teeth at the time they are least able to adjust to major changes, which includes wearing dentures.
As we get older, good health becomes even more precious
One of the few areas of the body that can remain just as healthy and functional in our adult years and into retirement as in the teenage years is the health of our teeth and mouth.
Recent findings from Harvard Dental School show those people who have lost more teeth have an increased risk of stroke. This research supports other links established between common dental problems such as pyorrhoea (gum infections) and an increased incidence of heart disease, lung disease and diabetes.
It has become clear that one of the most important things to do in preparing for your retirement is to ensure that dental disease does not increase your risk of complications and even life threatening medical problems.
Dentists have known for some time that fewer natural teeth means that people cannot eat the broad range of foods necessary for overall good health. Dentures provide less than 20% the chewing power of your natural teeth and this is a factor in digestive problems that many seniors experience.
Eating is a joy that you have earned
An elderly Italian patient once confessed to me: “Food is one of the few enduring pleasures in life and as you become older, the pleasure of eating often becomes one of the highlights of the day.” What a shame if you were not to be able to enjoy this because of dentures that slip, move and jump-up at each mealtime.
The important thing to remember though, is that Australians now have the longest life expectancy in the world: a 60 year old Australian man will, on average, live until age 79 and a woman to age 82. So any decisions you make regarding your dental health must take into account this 20 year time frame.
Another important point to remember is that whether you are 50, 60 or 70, your general health is unlikely to be better than it is right now. This is why it is important to think ahead if you want to keep your own teeth. In this way, you are able to have a broader range of treatment options available, and to do the dental treatment in a time frame, which fits best with you – rather than be forced to deal with dental emergencies for which your only option may be removal of the teeth and getting dentures!
By planning your treatment in stages (like renovating a house) you can work the treatment into your budget. That way you do not have any large out-of-pocket expenses all at once – and often you can make use of dental insurance benefits as well as the government’s tax rebate for medical and dental expenses over a number of years.
Working with you dentist to achieve longevity of your dental health
A good dentist will respect that all patients have a budget to work within, will openly discuss their fees and endeavour to only recommend treatment that will fit within their patient’s budget. In that way patients can receive the care they want without placing themselves under any unnecessary financial stress.