Give your health a boost at the dentist

These twice-a-year visits accomplish a lot more than just spotting and treating cavities.

Woman on beach

Most adults know how to take care of their teeth. Brushing, flossing, and seeing your dentist regularly are all important parts of your overall wellness routine. Maintaining these good habits still takes work, even when you know what to do. According to the American Academy of Periodontology, 75% of older adults have some level of gum disease, but many do not go to regular dental checkups twice a year.

“Preventive oral care is crucial to overall health, at all stages of life,” says Nipa Thakkar, DMD, MBS, of Thakkar Dental Care in West Chester, Pennsylvania. And going to the dentist doesn’t have to be a hassle or a major expense. Here, we explore why it’s so important to be proactive when taking care of your smile.

You’ll keep your mouth and teeth healthy

Regular trips to the dentist can help identify and treat common problems that could lead to tooth loss or gum disease. “We are able to detect TMJ [temporomandibular joint]  issues in the jaw joints, bite imbalances that can cause headaches and tooth breakage, tooth decay, clenching and grinding, misalignment, muscle tensions, and gum disease,” says Thakkar. It’s much better for you and your wallet to find these issues early. As the conditions progress, they get more difficult and expensive to treat.

Your dentist will also talk to you about your daily at-home oral care routine. The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends choosing a toothbrush with soft bristles and a small head that can reach all areas of your mouth. Replace your toothbrush every three to four months, or sooner if the bristles are frayed. For those who have arthritis or limited movement, an electric toothbrush may be easier to use. And if you wear dentures, you should use special denture cleaning formulas, because other cleaners may be too abrasive and damaging.

Experts recommend brushing your teeth two to three times a day and flossing at least once a day. As an added bonus, you’ll enjoy fresher breath and whiter teeth! Plus, your dentist will likely notice your good home care at your appointments.

You may catch other medical problems

In addition to teeth problems, routine dental visits can help detect many other serious medical conditions. “Heart disease, diabetes, and pneumonia are known health conditions in seniors that have a relationship with our patients’ oral health,” says Thakkar.

Your exam can also play a role in spotting oral cancer, head and neck pathologies, nutrition deficiencies, and sleep-related breathing disorders at early, more easily treatable stages.

You’ll eat better

The ADA recommends replacing teeth when you lose them. A full set of teeth that fits properly will help you chew all the foods that are part of a well-balanced diet, such as lean meats, beans, fruits, whole grains, and vegetables. When your dentures don’t fit well, you may be more inclined to eat softer foods that are lower in nutrients and don’t help your mouth stay clean. Seeing the dentist on a regular basis can ensure that your dentures fit well and are doing the job.

You can find solutions for side effects

Bring your current list of medications on every visit to the dentist. “Older adults should be especially cognizant of medications they take that could potentially cause dry mouth [or] interfere with their ability to keep their teeth clean,” says Thakkar. “Dry mouth creates an environment where decay becomes much more of a concern.” It lets food residue and acids build up on your teeth, which can damage them. Your dentist can keep an eye on this and recommend solutions, like an over-the-counter saliva substitute or an alcohol-free mouthwash.

Stay a step ahead

If you haven’t been to the dentist in a while, you may be scared or nervous about going back. However, the benefits of going can far outweigh any uncomfortable feelings that arise.

“Patients often confess that they wish they had done a better job taking care of their teeth in their lifetime. Often, this is a result of a misunderstanding about the importance of oral care,” says Thakkar. “The good news is that it is never too late to begin caring for your smile by establishing a regular dental health regimen, including having a dental ally on your side,” she says.