Tooth decay, poisoning and headache issues can be mild or severe

May 29, 2019

Q. What exactly causes my old teeth to decay?

Tooth decay – and gum disease – are caused by plaque, a layer of bacteria. This plaque can build up quickly on the teeth of older people. In addition, seniors have a greater tendency to get decay around older fillings. And we have more fillings than younger people because we didn’t all grow up with fluoride.

Cavities in the roots of teeth are also more common among older adults, because the roots are exposed when our gums recede and we become “long in the tooth.” The root surfaces are softer than tooth enamel and decay more easily.

Dry mouth, which is a lack of saliva, promotes tooth decay. Saliva is needed to neutralize the cavity-causing acids produced by plaque. Most dry mouth – a condition also known as xerostomia – is related to the medications taken by older adults rather than to the effects of aging.

Despite all of the dental problems related to age, seniors are holding onto their teeth longer than they used to. One reputable survey showed that the rate that seniors lose their teeth has dropped by 60 percent since 1960. This improvement has been attributed to advancements in treatment and better oral hygiene.

Q. What should I do if someone in my home is poisoned?

If you have a poison emergency, here are some steps you can take. The order of the steps depends upon the severity of the problem. You can call 911, call your poison control center at 800-222-1222, or search the poison's label for instructions and an emergency phone number.

The following are some general first-aid instructions.

• If you get a poison onto your skin or in your eyes, rinse the affected area in the shower for at least 15 minutes

• If you inhale toxic fumes, get to fresh air immediately

• If poison is swallowed, do not use an emetic medicine such as syrup of ipecac to induce vomiting. Doctors no longer recommend using these medicines because there is no evidence they prevent poisons from entering the bloodstream.

Q. How common are headaches?

More than 45 million Americans suffer from recurring headaches. About 70 percent of headache sufferers are women.

There are primary headaches, which are not related to another condition, and secondary headaches, which are. Primary headaches include tension, migraine, mixed headache syndrome and cluster headaches. Secondary headaches include chronic progressive, sinus and hormone headaches.

About 90 percent of primary headaches are caused by tension. These muscle-contraction headaches cause mild-to-moderate pain, and come and go. Tension headaches are called chronic if you have them more than 15 days per month. They are episodic if you get them fewer than 15 days per month.

Most tension headaches can be treated with over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen, aspirin and ibuprofen.


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