January 2018: How Our Sense of Taste Changes as We Age

I was at a dental lecture yesterday where the lecturer she said she had noticed that more of her elderly patients have a ‘sweet tooth’. She asked a physician friend of hers about it and they said it was because the ‘sugar’ taste buds live the longest. I was intrigued by this idea. It is evident in our dental practice also that there is an increase in dental cavities when patients become elderly. I had previously attributed this to decreased levels of saliva that could be due to age as well as due to many different medications. 

I did some research to see if I could find out whether or not our ‘sugar’ taste buds do in fact last the longest. 

I came across some interesting information: 
- Each taste bud goes through a constant regeneration process as healthy tongue sloughs off and regrows these taste buds about every 2 weeks. However around age 40 a smaller number of taste buds regenerate.  
- When our taste buds are at their peak we have 10 000-15 000. By the age of 70 we only have 1/3 of our taste buds left. 
- Some medical conditions such as Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease alter taste and smell and this is being used in some diagnostic processes. 
- With age people lose their sensitivity to salty and bitterness first and sweetness is retained the longest. 
- Many caregivers find that by adding sweetener to food they can often entice their elderly patients to eat even when they seem to have lost interest in food. 

So what does this mean for dental health? Here are a few recommendations: 

#1. Frequency of sugar consumption: The worst thing for your teeth is constantly snacking on sweets. Consumption of sugary foods should be limited to meal times. 
#2. If there is a decreased amount of saliva in the mouth there is an increased likelihood of developing cavities. There are many products on the market, which can be used to increase saliva production and thus help prevent dental decay. 
#3. Some patients with high risk for decay are good candidates for either a fluoride rinse or a high fluoride toothpaste to reduce this risk for decay. 
#4. Effective home care with regular tooth brushing and flossing can go a long way!

Dr. Lauren Vredenburg
Calgary Fine Dentistry 

Information was obtained from:

https://www.andelcare.com/blog/the-senior-sweet-tooth-why-do-so-many-seniors-crave-sweets

https://www.bonappetit.com/entertaining-style/trends-news/article/sense-of-taste-changes-aging

 

Lauren Vredenburg