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It’s a fact: the risk of developing conditions that contribute to poor oral health — including gum disease, cavities, tooth loss, oral cancer and dry mouth — increases as you age.

The good news? Growing older doesn’t have to mean poor dental health.

With good dental habits, regular preventive checkups and treatment, and a mindful approach to what you eat, you can maintain healthy teeth and gums for a lifetime.

People are living longer and keeping more of their natural teeth. So, it’s more important than ever to practice good habits to keep our teeth healthy and strong as we age. Simple, daily steps can pay off in the long run.

Daniel J. Pihlstrom, DDSTrish Kerr Laufenberg, a Kaiser Permanente dental patient in her early 70s, is fortunate to have a relatively healthy mouth. But she has seen friends and family suffer tooth loss and health problems because of dental issues.

“If you want to try to avoid implants, dentures, and systemic medical problems,” she said, “prevention and education are very important — especially as you reach midlife and after.”

Prevention is the best medicine

Nearly half of Americans over age 30 show signs of gum disease. By age 50, Americans have lost an average of 12 permanent teeth — including wisdom teeth.

But this doesn’t need to be the case. Practicing these dental habits will help you maintain healthy teeth and gums long into your golden years:

  • Brush and floss regularly. It takes proper brushing and flossing to remove bacteria from the surface of your teeth and spaces between your teeth and gums. This is still the number one way to maintain good oral health.
  • Visit the dentist for regular cleanings and exams. Your dentist can monitor the health of your gums, remove plaque that you’ve missed and look out for warning signs of oral cancer and other health conditions, including osteoporosis and diabetes.
  • Give your body — and mouth — the nutrients it needs. Vitamin C (found in oranges, bell peppers and leafy green vegetables) and vitamin D (found in fish, soy and dairy) are essential nutrients for gum health.
  • Know your risk factors. Being aware of your risk factors can help you and your dentist create a plan to fight any dental issues that arise.
  • Steer clear of tobacco products. Tobacco weakens the immune response in your mouth, which affects your gum health and increases the risk of developing oral cancer.
  • Avoid excessive wear. Our teeth are naturally strong and intended to help us chew just about anything. But they can break down under excessive use. Grinding your teeth, chewing ice and hard candy, and other destructive oral habits can lead to premature breakage of teeth.
  • Restoring your smile after tooth loss

    We want to help you keep your teeth for life. However, if you have lost teeth through the years due to gum disease or other causes, dentures, bridges and dental implants can provide the look and feel of natural teeth. Talk with your dentist to determine which type of prosthetic is best for you.

    Daniel J. Pihlstrom, DDS, practices general dentistry at Kaiser Permanente Tigard Dental Office.

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