How to Have a Great Smile

How to Have a Great Smile
It's easy to neglect dental care as we age, but it's so much better for our smile and our health if we take care of our teeth. (hedgehog94/Shutterstock)
Marilyn Murray Willison

When I share my thoughts on growing older gracefully with my readers, it’s important for everyone to know that, as in so many areas of life, I bring more enthusiasm to my activities than expertise. Fortunately, curiosity and enthusiasm often compensate for brilliance or a list of college degrees. Having said that, I’m going to go on the record to state that in my opinion, when it comes to walking through life, a great smile is your best companion. Not only does it automatically put other people at ease but it has also been shown to stimulate our feel-good chemicals.

Unfortunately, it’s easy to forget about the importance of good dental care, habits and hygiene as we age. Many senior citizens feel that it’s no longer necessary to visit their dentist every six months, perhaps because the accumulation of cavities tends to decline with each decade. But I strongly remind readers that taking care of our gums and teeth is every bit as important for mature adults as it is for children.

Our oral health affects how well we eat, smile and speak. And if our gums succumb to periodontal disease, or gum disease, that situation can worsen a variety of chronic health conditions, including arthritis, diabetes and even heart disease. Additionally, dental check-ups are the easiest way to detect mouth cancers, which may account for only 2 percent of overall cancers today, but the rate of increase appears to be steadily growing. And the risk of oral cancer increases an alarming 15 times for people who are smokers and-simultaneously-are heavy drinkers.

The complications from dry mouth are another important dental consideration for older adults. Baby boomers are taking more prescription medications than ever before, and this can cause a dental hygiene complication. Essentially, both prescription and over-the-counter medications tend to dry out the mouth, particularly the ones used to treat allergies, Alzheimer’s disease, asthma, anxiety, depression, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, pain and Parkinson’s disease. The problem with this situation is that our teeth depend on the natural antibacterial and acid-neutralizing components found in saliva, so long-term mouth dryness can contribute to the weakening (or demineralization) of our teeth. Regular visits to the dentist can ensure that our tooth enamel has not been compromised.

By the time we are old enough to enlist in Medicare, it’s a pretty safe bet that we’ve already had some significant dental work -- bridges, crowns, fillings or implants. If decay develops underneath previous dental work, a solution can be both costly and time-consuming. Some dentists approach this issue proactively by working to strengthen teeth -- often using topical fluoride -- before they develop cavities or become compromised.

Early generations considered it a given that our teeth would simply fall out when we reached old age. But if properly taken care of, they should last as long as we do. It’s a good idea for patients to visit their dentist before beginning a course of osteoporosis medication to make sure no important procedures (like extractions) are on the horizon. Why? Because bone healing can be adversely affected by Bisphosphonates.

If you or an elderly loved one haven’t been to the dentist in a long time, bring a list of the medications and supplements you take to your dental appointment. Your dentist will evaluate the following during your visit:

-- Tooth decay. -- Toothache. -- Broken teeth. -- Gum problems (gingivitis). -- Soft tissue problems. -- Denture-related problems. -- Medical history.

If your teeth are well-cared for, you'll not only feel better and look nicer but also be far more likely to smile. And who doesn’t like to see a smiling senior citizen?

Marilyn Murray Willison has had a varied career as a six-time nonfiction author, columnist, motivational speaker and journalist in both the U.K. and the U.S. She is the author of The Self-Empowered Woman blog and the award-winning memoir “One Woman, Four Decades, Eight Wishes.” She can be reached at To find out more about Marilyn and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at
Marilyn Murray Willison has had a varied career as a six-time award-winning nonfiction author, columnist, motivational speaker, and journalist in both the U.K. and the United States. She is the author of The Self-Empowered Woman blog and the award-winning memoir “One Woman, Four Decades, Eight Wishes.” Her website is
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