close-up of an older couple flossing their teeth in the bathroom

Tips for Taking Care of Your Teeth and Mouth for Older Adults

Taking care of your teeth and mouth should be a priority — no matter your age. A healthy mouth allows you to easily smile, talk, laugh and eat the foods you need for good nutrition. By following these tips for older adult oral care, you can help your teeth last a lifetime.

Why Should You Take Care of Your Teeth?

Your teeth and mouth play an important role in your overall health. By establishing a strong oral care routine, you can help make your teeth stronger and last longer, preventing issues like tooth decay and gum disease. Learn more about what happens to your teeth as you age.

Tooth Decay

Tooth decay occurs when plaque bacteria feed on the sugars and starches in your food and produce acids that attack your tooth enamel. If left unchecked, this decay can create cavities and eventually infect your whole tooth, requiring treatments like fillings, crowns, root canals, or extractions.

Gum Disease

Gum disease, also called periodontal disease, occurs when plaque and tartar buildup causes your gums to become red, swollen, and bleeding. If not treated, your gums can start to pull away from your teeth and form pockets that can get infected. Eventually, this infection can ruin the bones, gums, and tissue that support your teeth. In severe cases, you can even lose your teeth.

How to Take Care of Your Teeth and Mouth as You Age

Avoid the pain of tooth decay and gum disease by making your oral health a priority. It's never too late to create new oral care habits. Follow these tips for taking care of your teeth and mouth as you age.

Tip #1: Brush Your Teeth Twice a Day

Care for the teeth you've got by brushing twice a day. Use a toothbrush with soft bristles and fluoride toothpaste and brush for two minutes at a time. As you age, arthritis and conditions might limit mobility, making it harder to hold a toothbrush. Ask your dentist for product recommendations that can help you brush properly. It might help to attach the toothbrush handle to your hand with a wide elastic band. Other people choose to make the handle bigger by taping it to a sponge or styrofoam ball. Those with limited shoulder movement might find brushing easier if they attach it to a long piece of wood or plastic handle. Electric toothbrushes can also help those with limited mobility.

Tip #2: Clean Between Your Teeth Daily

Flossing is also an important habit for removing plaque and food debris from between teeth. You should clean between your teeth at least once a day. If limited mobility makes flossing difficult, try an interdental cleaner or floss holder. Water flossers are also a popular choice for those who struggle with traditional floss.

Tip #3: Maintain Regular Dental Visits

Regular visits to your dentist can help keep you one step ahead of potential dental problems. Your dentist can identify early signs of tooth decay or gum disease and take immediate action. Oral cancer also occurs most often in people over age 40, so your dentist can complete cancer screenings during your regular check-up. Let your dentist know immediately if you have trouble with swelling, numbness, sores, or lumps in your mouth, or if it becomes hard for you to chew, swallow, or move your jaw or tongue.

Tip #4: Use Fluoride

The Mayo Clinic reports that older adults are at higher risk of cavities. Support the remineralization of enamel and help prevent tooth decay by using fluoride toothpaste. For additional support, you can also try using a fluoride mouth rinse. Your dentist may even prescribe a prescription-strength fluoride toothpaste.

Tip #5: Eat a Well-balanced Diet

Your diet plays an important role in your well-being. If you're looking to improve your oral health, start limiting snacks and beverages high in sugar and carbohydrates. Instead, replace those with foods that help your teeth stay strong and help your mouth clear bacteria and acid from your teeth. The American Dental Association (ADA) also recommends that older adults get 1,000 milligrams a day of calcium from low-fat dairy products to prevent osteoporosis, which can affect the bone surrounding your teeth.

Tip #6: Take Care of Your Dentures

If you already have dentures or false teeth, make sure to follow all the special instructions for their care. Keep your dentures clean and free from food that can cause stains, bad breath, or swollen gums. Once a day, brush all surfaces with a denture care product. When you go to sleep, take your dentures out of your mouth and put them in water or a denture cleansing liquid. You'll take care of partial dentures the same way. Because bacteria can collect under the clasps or clips that hold partial dentures, take time to clean that area carefully.

Tip #7: Increase Oral Hydration

Dry mouth occurs when the salivary glands don't work properly, which increases the risk of tooth decay and infection. Dry mouth is common in older adults because it's a side effect for many diseases, medical treatments, and medications. If you think you have dry mouth, talk with your dentist or primary care physician to find out why. If a medication you take causes dry mouth, your physician might change your prescription or dosage. To help prevent dryness, drink extra water and cut back on sugary snacks and drinks with caffeine and alcohol. Your dentist might also recommend using artificial saliva, which you can get from most drug stores, or chewing sugar-free gum.

Tip #8: Stop Tobacco Use

Finally, if you struggle with tobacco use, make a plan to quit. Tobacco in any form is linked to an increased risk of mouth and throat cancer, not to mention heart disease and other serious conditions. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also reports that those who use tobacco are more likely to develop gum disease.

From helping you eat your favorite foods to giving you confidence in your smile, your teeth make every day better. As you age, it becomes more and more important to care for your oral health. Follow these tips for taking care of your teeth and reap the benefits of a healthy mouth for years to come.

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This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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