The aging mouth

ALTHOUGH it can be said that the major problems encountered in dentistry generally commensurate with the aging of the patient, there are widespread misconceptions with regard to such an implication. The importance of this fact has over time, has even resulted in the birth and proliferation of charlatan practitioners fabricating dentures.

Interdisciplinary research in the human aging process (gerontology) has demonstrated that it is the effects of disease – and not aging itself – that is most significant for our perception of ourselves and others as either ‘youthful’ or ‘elderly’ in the later years of life. We should therefore not be afraid of age, but we should be aware of health hazards.
We often become demure about our age as we grow older. We are so influenced by today’s youth culture that youthfulness remains ideal for us even when we have reached a considerable age. It is not surprising that the chronological aging process is a traumatic experience for many.

One of the first questions that patients have to answer at a visit to the dentist is how old they are! We love to classify people by age. There is a risk, however, that the date of birth becomes more significant than the individual.
Birth dates have become a simple and practical means of identification in modern society. However, in biological age research, this combination of digits is more often nonsense parameter. It gives no indication whatsoever of how we function.
The elderly individual does not lose his teeth because he has grown old. He loses them because of diseases, the oral diseases frequently mirroring the general ones. Remember, the risk of disease increases with age.

Dental diseases and alterations in saliva and mucous membranes may be early symptoms of a decrease of general health status of elderly people. These may indicate a weakening of tissues’ biological defense thresholds for different stresses. Few tissues in the human body must withstand what the oral tissues have to, not only in terms of possible dryness but also mechanically, thermally, microbially, chemically and galvanically (electrically).
Oral tissues occasionally show relatively specific signs of system illness and negative social habits, but, most frequently, less characteristic reaction patterns are seen that cannot immediately be diagnosed. These are, however, usually specific for the individual and thus form a kind of biological ‘fingerprint’ which changes with variations with health.

The vital point to note is that we are all biologically unique individuals from birth and become functionally, increasingly diverse until we are very old. We must sooner or later ‘pay’ for the way we have used our biological resources. The way we pay has to do with our genetic make up, and the combined influence of the accumulated consequences of many years of physiological age changes, bouts of illness, uses and abuses of medications, risky lifestyles and wanton neglect to care our bodies. From a psychological point of view, we actually become caricatures of ourselves in later years and invariably we must take the blame.

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