Today I’d like to discuss some of the less prominent, but still important, contributing factors to oral health, starting with olfactory and sensory organs:
Sensory and Motor Functioning
Sensory nerve endings in the craniofacial tissues are well-preserved in aging and, for the most part, have the capacity for life-long near- functioning. The exception is olfaction, which declines with age in both men and women.
Sudden or dramatic changes in sensory function —complaints of continued unpleasant taste or smell or sudden loss of sensory modality— should be taken seriously as a possible sign of disease or a side effect of medication and it most certainly should not dismissed as just a natural by-product of aging.
Studies of normative aging indicate individuals vary in the quantity of “whole” saliva they produce. In healthy adults, there is no diminution in the production of saliva from the major salivary glands in the course of aging.
Diseases and Disorders
The mouth is challenged by a constant barrage of invaders —bacteria, viruses, parasites, fungi, for example. Not surprisingly, dental caries and periodontal diseases predominate among compromises to oral health.
Injuries, too, take their toll: The face, head and teeth are particularly vulnerable to sport or motor vehicle crash injuries, violence and abuse.
Systemic diseases such as diabetes, arthritis, osteoporosis, and AIDS, as well as their respective therapies, can also compromise oral tissues.
Dental And Periodontal Infections
Individuals are vulnerable to dental caries throughout life, with 85 percent of adults aged 18 and older affected.
Periodontal diseases are most often seen in maturity, with the majority of adults experiencing some signs and symptoms by the mid-30s.
The aetiology of the word caries is from the Latin for rotten. Today, however, it describes the condition of having holes —cavities— in the teeth.
Although not incorrect, this is misleading for, as dental professionals know, a cavity is a late manifestation of a bacterial infection.
The bacteria colonizing the mouth form a cariogenic biofilm that, at a single tooth site, may contain a half-billion bacteria. The essential role of bacteria in caries initiation was established in landmark experiments in the 1950s.
Caries in permanent teeth are proportionately fewer on the smooth surfaces rather than on the pit-and-fissure surfaces characteristic of chewing surfaces.
An important risk factor for root caries in older people is the use of medications that inhibit salivary flow, leading to dry mouth (xerostomia).
It is not clear why some individuals are more susceptible than others to caries. Genetic differences are among the factors under study.
Absent adequate personal dental hygiene, however, the most protective genetic factors are unlikely to confer resistance to decay.
There are also indications that the use of smokeless tobacco products is associated with increased levels of decay of both crown and root surfaces.
I hope this article was helpful. If you have any comments, or questions, about a subject I’ve written about, don’t hesitate to get in touch. Leave your thoughts in a comment here, or find me on social media: