Healthy Aging

Smile! Good News about dentistry

If you’re one of those  Americans who shudder at the thought of even a routine dental visit—never mind root canals or fillings—there’s good news. It’s not your Mom’s dental office anymore.

Dental advances span the spectrum from quicker X-rays to better crowns and fillings and even prettier aesthetics, among other things.

“Two generations ago, people passed away in their 60’s and most did not have all of their own teeth,” says Matthew Messina, DDS, a spokesperson for the American Dental Association and an assistant professor at The Ohio State University. “This generation has a very good likelihood of living into their 80s and 90s and can expect to keep most or all of their own teeth,” he says. That’s if you go to the dentist regularly, of course.

Here, a few things that may have changed since you last said “Ah.”

Higher Tech X-rays

Many dentists have switched to digitized X-rays instead of traditional radiographs.  There are different methods to this, but one involves putting an electronic sensor into your mouth to record images. The digital image is transmitted to a computer for viewing. These digital images can be stored on the computer so your dentist can then keep track of how your mouth is doing. These X-rays can not only find cavities but look at the bone underlying your teeth to see how good your ”anchors” are.

Better Restorative Materials

Today’s restorative materials look and feel more like ”real” teeth than those used in years past, Messina says.  For instance, if you need a cavity filled, your dentist may use ”tooth-colored” porcelain or composite fillings, replacing the old silver amalgams. Bonding, which can be done on chipped teeth, is also more natural looking. There are more shades of this plastic bonding material now, so it’s likely to look more natural since it can more closely match your teeth.

Less Goopy, Faster Crown Preparation

When a crown is needed, some dentists use CAD/CAM technology—computer-assisted design and computer-assisted technology—for crowns.  Instead of making a mold of the tooth (that goopy stuff in the tray), the dentist drills the tooth to prepare it for the crown, then takes a picture with a computer. That image is transmitted to a machine that makes the crown.

“The results don’t vary,” Messina says, between goop and computer methods. Costs may be higher for the computer method, of course. However, the computer-generated impressions are ”certainly more pleasant” than the goop, he says. While crowns are often still done in two steps, meaning two visits, some offices can complete it in one long visit, Messina says, with the proper equipment.

Dental Implants

Some 15 or 20 years ago, dental implants were considered somewhat experimental, Messina says. Not any more. In this now routine procedure, an artificial tooth root is placed into your jaw to hold a replacement tooth or a bridge, according to the American Academy of Periodontology. Before the implant is placed, you may need to beef up the underlying bone, filling the defect with bone or bone substitute. Implants need to be cared for just as regular teeth do—brushing and flossing.

Cosmetic Advances

“Everything we do is more aesthetic than it was before,” notes Messina. “Seniors value their smiles. A lot are willing to invest in more aesthetics, whether crowns or veneers on the front teeth, or orthodontics.”

Veneers are made with the idea that teeth should be healthy looking, replacing the old ”Chicklets” look of the past. The healthy look has replaced the previous goal of having ”the biggest, brightest, whitest kind of look,” Messina says.

“When cosmetic dentistry is done well, people don’t say, ‘Nice teeth,'” Messina points out. “Rather, they might tell you look rested, or younger, or more relaxed.”  (So you can simply smile and say thanks.)

What Else to Know

Many over-60 dental patients think they have outgrown cavities and are surprised when their dentist finds one and tells them they need a filling, Messina says. The dentist has to tell them there is no age at which you outgrow cavities.  “The bacteria don’t know how old you are nor do they care,” Messina says.

After 60, you may need more frequent routine checkups, Messina warns, but that should be decided on a case-by-case basis. “I have some seniors who have meticulous oral care, and once every 6 months is perfect [for a routine checkup].” Others need to check in every three months, especially if their teeth accumulate plaque quickly or if they have gum problems.  That’s where having a relationship with your own dentist makes such a difference,” he says. 

Doing Your Part

Messina states and the research confirms that a healthy mouth and a healthy body are linked. “With every passing week, we know more and more about how oral health is an integral part of overall body health,” he observes.  Uncontrolled gum disease, for instance, has been linked with an increased risk of heart attack and stroke.

“If you have your dental health in good shape, with no periodontal disease and no decay, that lack of inflammation and bacteria in the mouth makes everything else healthier,” Messina concludes. 


For dental information just for those 60-plus, see the American Dental Association site.

For a closeup of dental implants, look here.


Photo credit: Janaya Dasiuk for Unsplash


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