Why dental care is important for seniors
Good dental hygiene and oral care habits are important at any age, but you may face certain issues in your senior years when it comes to your oral health. Luckily, your dentist and physician can help you successfully meet most of these challenges.
What happens to our teeth as we age?
As you get older, certain oral conditions not present when you were younger might develop. That’s why dental care for older adults is so important. Many of these elder dental problems are easily identified, solved, or even prevented when you know what to look for.
Don’t worry, getting older doesn't necessarily make dry mouth more likely. However, certain features of aging, such as more regular medications or a chronic condition, can increase your risk for dry mouth – along with cavities or decay. Your dentist can recommend various methods to restore moisture in your mouth, as well as appropriate treatments or medications to help prevent the problems associated.
Otherwise known as simple wear and tear, many years of chewing and grinding can take their toll on an aging set of teeth. As enamel wears down, the risk for cavities increases.
This includes oral cancer and less serious illnesses, such as thrush, which is an abnormal growth of fungus in the mouth.
One of the major causes of tooth loss in adults can also be a painless disease. Sometimes referred to as periodontal disease, it’s caused by plaque forming on teeth. Check out the warning signs and see your dentist if you suspect you have gum disease because the sooner you treat it the better. Thankfully, it’s easy to prevent gum disease in elderly from developing in the first place, by practicing proper oral hygiene.
Often accompanied by gum disease, the roots of your teeth may become exposed as your gums recede, leading to an increased rate of decay as you age.
Sensitivity can be an increasing problem as you age. Your gums naturally recede over time, exposing areas of the tooth that are not protected by enamel. If you experience sensitivity, try an anti-sensitivity toothpaste. If the problem persists, see your dentist, as the sensitivity may be an indication of a more serious condition, such as a cavity or a cracked or fractured tooth.
Oral Health Tips for Seniors
How do you take care of aging teeth? Just because people are more prone to oral health problems with age doesn't mean you have to experience them. Keeping your aging teeth and gums in tip-top shape requires a few common sense practices:
- Maintain regular dental visits: Even if you're a denture wearer, getting your teeth and gums checked is very important and can keep you one step ahead of potential dental problems.
- Use an antibacterial mouthwash: When used with brushing and flossing, an antibacterial mouthwash can reduce the buildup of plaque.
- Brush and floss daily. Make sure you’re brushing twice a day for at least two minutes and using toothpaste that contains fluoride. It’s also important to floss at least once daily.
Does your arthritis make brushing or flossing difficult?
Don’t worry! Ask your dentist about special dental aids that make brushing easier. Interdental cleaners and floss holders are also available if you have difficulty flossing between each tooth every day.
- Increase fluoridation: Fluoride isn't just for children! Switch to a fluoride toothpaste or incorporate a fluoride rinse into your daily routine. The Mayo Clinic notes that older individuals have an increased risk for cavities, making it doubly important for you to make sure fluoride is a part of your daily routine.
- Avoid tobacco: Tobacco in any form has been linked to an increased risk of mouth and throat cancer, not to mention heart disease and other serious conditions. Chewing tobacco can even lead to more decay, as many tobacco formulations contain sugar.
- Monitor your sugar intake: Make smart choices when eating candy and soda and watch out for starch-filled snacks. Brush shortly after snacking.
- Increase oral hydration: Ask your doctor if you can substitute your medication for one that doesn't produce dry mouth. If this is not possible, then drink plenty of water, chew a sugar-free gum, and avoid alcohol, which tends to dehydrate your body.
- Care for your dentures: Dentures can make life easier for many seniors, but they require special care. Follow your dentist's instructions carefully and see your dentist if any problems arise. An annual checkup is recommended for long-term denture wearers.
- Get your recommended calcium: How do you keep your teeth strong as you age? The American Dental Association's (ADA) Mouth Healthy site suggests older adults need 1,000 milligrams a day of calcium from low-fat dairy products to prevent osteoporosis, which can affect the bone surrounding your teeth.
A healthy smile looks great at any age. Keeping up with good hygiene habits, visiting your dentist regularly and making changes to your routine as your body changes will help you keep a great-looking smile for life. By understanding the dental risks that come with aging, you and your dentist can work together to prevent oral health problems so you can keep your teeth for a lifetime.