A Helpful Dental Care Guide for Seniors

In your older adult years, taking care of your oral health is more important than ever. Have you taken these important steps to keep your teeth in shape?

 

a helpful dental care guide for seniors

Photo by Sarah Scicluna via Flickr.

As the years go by, things seem to get busier and busier. However, it’s important that your health doesn’t fall to the wayside in your senior years, especially when it comes to the state of your teeth. To keep yourself on track, here are some things you can do to make oral care a priority in your life.

Keep Oral Health Risks in Mind

Dry Mouth

Dry mouth is not a normal part of aging. However, many older adults experience this problem because it is a side effect of many medications and treatments for conditions including asthma, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, pain, depression, and Alzheimer’s disease. Certain medications and treatments decrease saliva production, leading to dry mouth. If you have this issue, talk to your dentist about ways you can relieve the symptoms. Some ways the American Dental Association (ADA) recommends are:

  • Drink more water so your mouth is always lubricated. Always have a water bottle on hand.

  • Use a moisturizing spray, mouthwash, or other over-the-counter treatment.

  • Consider changing medication or dosage (consult your doctor)

  • Use a humidifier to keep moisture in the air.

  • Stimulate saliva production by using sugar-free gum or lozenges

  • Avoid foods and drinks that dry your mouth like coffee, soft drinks, alcoholic beverages and acidic juices.

Cavities

Older adults find themselves in a second round of years where cavities are prone to develop (the first is during childhood). Teeth are naturally worn down over the years, leaving them more vulnerable to the acids produced by the bacteria in your mouth. Seniors who struggle with dry mouth have an increased risk of getting cavities because saliva remineralizes the enamel (the protective outer layer) on your teeth. When you’re mouth is lacking in saliva production, your mouth in unable to help teeth fight off acid attacks. Thus, plaque builds up and erodes the tooth, creating a hole called a cavity.

Gum disease

It’s common for seniors to have problems with periodontal disease, or gum disease. With it, gums bleed easily and become irritated, red, and swollen. Often, it’s a painless condition until it reaches its later stage, which is why it’s more common for older adults. This disease is caused by the bacteria in plaque, which is made worse by food left in teeth, poor diets, tobacco usage, and poor fitting bridges or dentures. If left untreated, gum disease can destroy the gums, bone, and tissue supporting teeth. Regular dental visits are crucial for catching the disease early, and it can be treated easily.

Darkened Teeth

Over a lifetime, enamel is thinned and eroded by consuming foods and beverages that contain sugar or are high in acidity. As enamel is thinned, the next yellow layer of teeth begins to show called dentin, which is the tissue under the layer of tooth enamel. Also, dentin is changed overtime by the consumption of stain-causing foods or tobacco use.

Oral Cancer

Of the 35,000 cases of oral cancer diagnosed each year, the average age of the diagnosed patients is 62, according to the American Cancer Association. Oral cancer does not always cause pain in it’s early stages, so it’s important to see a dentist regularly so they can check for signs and symptoms.

Dental Care Tips for Seniors

1. Stick to your Daily Dental Regimen
Because you oral health is at greater risk as you age, it’s important for you to stick to a healthy dental routine on a daily basis.  The ADA recommends brushing at least twice a day with toothpaste containing fluoride. Using a toothbrush with a small head and soft bristles, you’ll be able to thoroughly and gently clean those hard to reach areas. An electric toothbrush is a great option if you have problems with arthritis because they clean more effectively and require less wrist and finger movement. Be sure to replace your toothbrush or toothbrush head about every three months, or when the bristles are bent and frayed. Also, use flossing tools like normal floss, water flossers, or pre-threaded floss to clean between your teeth daily.

2. Quit Tobacco
It’s never too late to quit a bad habit. Smoking and using tobacco products lead to an increasing a host of dental problems, including gum disease, tooth loss and decay, and tooth discoloration. It also decreases the success rate of dental implants and slows the healing process for dental procedures. Talk to your dentist about over-the-counter products or tobacco cessation programs that can help you quit tobacco and improve your oral health.

3. Visit Your Dentist Regularly

Seeing your dentist for regular cleanings and oral examinations is absolutely crucial for maintaining your oral health during your later years. As you age, the nerves inside your mouth and teeth become less sensitive. So if you have a dental issue, it may take longer for you to notice the pain and seek treatment. You shouldn’t wait until you think there’s a problem, because it may be too late to save a tooth by then. Plus, the risk of developing oral cancer and gum disease are higher for seniors, and dentists will check for signs of these to catch them in their early, treatable stages.

Giving Dental Care for a Elderly or Disabled Loved One

If a loved one is in your care, it’s important to help them get the dental upkeep they need for maintaining oral health. Here are some crucial things you can do for them:

Make sure they are:

  • brushing and flossing daily

  • getting to their dentist appointments

  • sticking to good food habits, especially if they wear dentures.

Daily oral care tasks that are simple for others may not be easy for them, so it’s best to talk to their dentist about ways to help them brush and floss their teeth if necessary.

Eat Foods that Promote Oral Health

Making healthy food choices can help keep your mouth happy and healthy in your later years.

Recommended Foods and Drinks:

  • Water
    Water helps to keep your mouth hydrated. Plus, it’s a much better choice for the state of your teeth and overall health when you opt for water instead of sugary or acidic drinks like soda or coffee.

  • Low Fat Dairy
    Milk, cheese, and yogurt are low in sugar and high in calcium and protein, which can help strengthen teeth.

  • Nuts
    Nuts can actually help to strengthen and protect teeth because they contain protein and help stimulate saliva production.

  • Lean meats
    Protein and phosphorus-rich lean meats like turkey, chicken, and fish can help rebuild and strengthen tooth enamel.

  • Fruits and Vegetables (with low acidity)
    Because fresh fruits and vegetables contain high amounts of fiber and water, they help neutralize and balance your mouth. They naturally clean your teeth because they stimulate saliva production and wash away food particles and harmful acids.

Foods and Drinks to limit:

  • Coffee and Tea
    The acidity in certain kinds of teas and coffee drinks tend to wear enamel away, especially when they have added sugar.

  • Starch-filled Foods
    Crunchy or chewy starches like bread or potato chips tend to get caught and trapped in teeth. If you do eat them, be sure remove food particles with floss so they don’t build up bacterial plaque.

  • Sticky, Sugary Foods
    Choosing dried fruit over candy sounds like a healthier choice, but the reality is that it’s still full of sugar and will stick to your teeth for long periods of time.

Affordable Dental Care for Seniors

Once you retire, Medicare doesn’t cover routine dental care. If you don’t want your dental health to suffer in your senior years, you need access to cheap dental care. One way to do that is through a discount dental plan, which typically has a lower fee than traditional dental insurance. Within a plan’s network, there are a variety of dentists to choose from who offer up to 15-50 percent in savings on procedures. All you pay are the reduced fees out-of-pocket, and there isn’t any paperwork to fill out. Find out more about the extensive nationwide savings offered by Carefree Dental!

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