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Cavities are common in older adults both on the crown surface, the portion of the tooth covered by enamel, and the root surface. Recent research suggests that older adults are more likely to develop new cavities on the crown and root surfaces at a greater rate than younger populations. To understand why this is happening, consider the following facts:

  1. Older adult’s gums tend to “pull away” or recede from the teeth showing more root surfaces. This usually results from years of scrubbing the teeth vigorously with a stiff toothbrush.
  2. Many older adults are keeping their natural teeth longer than past older generations, making them more likely to develop cavities.
  3. The saliva in an older adult’s mouth changes in amount and composition.
  4. Chronic illness and disabilities make daily mouth care more difficult to perform, leaving behind damaging bacteria on the root surfaces.
  5. Root cavities can grow rapidly if there is a lack of sufficient home care such as daily brushing and cleaning between the teeth.
  6. Dry mouth, known as xerostomia, contributes to the development of root cavities. Food and plaque stick much more readily to teeth in a dry mouth. The side effect of many medications is a dry mouth.
  7. Poor gum and bone health also contribute to the formation of root cavities.
  8. Eating a diet high in fermentable carbohydrates; carbohydrates that turn to simple sugars in the mouth, such as cookies, cakes, soft drinks, candy, bread, crackers, bananas, and breakfast cereals, may also result in cavities on the root surfaces.

Helpful Tips

Fortunately, there are simple ways older adults and their caregivers can control and prevent root cavities.

  • A. Brush twice a day thoroughly for two minutes with toothpaste containing fluoride and only use a soft toothbrush.
  • B. Carefully clean between the teeth with dental floss or an interdental brush or water pick.
  • C. If you have a disability, a power or electric toothbrush will help to remove bacteria and food particles more completely.
  • D. Always rinse with a fluoride mouth wash at night before going to bed and only sip on water while in bed.
  • E. To moisturize a dry mouth, use an over the counter moisturizing mouth wash up to five times a day or use an over the counter saliva replacement. A wet mouth reduces plaque buildup.
  • F. Choose healthier snacks such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains foods.
  • G. Visit your dentist and dental hygienist at least twice a year for an exam and thorough prophylaxis.