Mouth of a 45-Year-Old
Among most baby boomers, dental self-care comes naturally. “For this this group, losing their teeth is not a consideration,” says geriatric dentist Dr. Elisa Ghezzi, a past chair of the Coalition for Oral Health for the Aging. “They’re not going to. And they’re people who’ve grown up pretty recently educated that you should go regularly to get your teeth cleaned, that you should use a fluoridated toothpaste.”
Baby boomers have a preventive advantage, says Ghezzi, the owner of Voiage Dental, a mobile private practice offering dental care to residents in long-term care facilities in eastern Michigan. “Unlike kids these days, [baby boomers] drank out of drinking fountains that had fluoride in them.” You can’t gauge somebody’s age by looking at their teeth, she says, adding that she’s told 85-year-old patients that if she showed their X-rays to another dentist, the dentist would think the images belonged to someone who was 45.
“When was the last time you had your teeth cleaned?” is a key question Ghezzi asks new patients or their family members. “That tells me the last time you were in for regular preventive care,” she says. “That’s what matters so much.”
Debunking Senior Dental Myths
Common misconceptions about aging teeth can act as barriers to the best dental self-care. Keep the following recommendations in mind:
Cavities aren’t just for kids. Evidence is clear that loss of teeth, or edentulism, is decreasing among older Americans, says Dr. Renée Joskow, the chief dental officer with the Health Resources and Services Administration. “People are retaining their teeth and keeping them longer,” she says. Therefore, they could be at risk for cavities, she adds. “It doesn’t mean that’s automatic,” she says. “If you’re taking care of your teeth, we can prevent cavities.”