Believe it or not, a healthy mouth plays a vital role in maintaining overall wellness and quality of life, especially for seniors. In fact, good oral hygiene helps prevent various dental problems and can even contribute to better brain health and the prevention of systemic diseases. That’s why the older you get, the more important it becomes to pay attention to your oral health. Here are a few issues to watch out for:
Gum Disease: Older adults may be more prone to gum disease due to factors like long-term plaque buildup and certain medical conditions. Gum disease leads to tooth loss and can increase the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and other health complications.
Tooth Decay: Aging can cause the gums to recede, exposing the roots of teeth and making them more vulnerable to cavities. Older adults may also have an increased risk of tooth decay if a condition, like arthritis or essential tremor, diminishes their capability to brush and floss effectively.
Dry Mouth: Many seniors experience dry mouth, a condition in which there is insufficient saliva production. Dry mouth can lead to discomfort, difficulties swallowing and speaking, and an increased risk of tooth decay and oral infections. Many medications can cause dry mouth as a side effect.
Denture-Related Problems: Seniors who wear dentures – especially ones that no longer fit properly – may experience gum inflammation, mouth sores, and difficulty speaking or eating.
Maintaining Good Dental Hygiene
Now that we understand why oral health is crucial for seniors, let’s explore some practical steps you can take to maintain healthy teeth and gums:
Brushing: Brush your teeth at least twice a day using a soft-bristled toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste. Pay special attention to brushing along the gumline and all surfaces of the teeth – a full cleaning should take almost two minutes. Switching to an electric toothbrush may be beneficial for older adults, as it can provide more thorough scrubbing with less effort. Replace toothbrushes every three months or sooner if the bristles are visibly matted or frayed.
Flossing: Cleaning between your teeth and under the gumline once per day helps remove bacteria and food particles that brushing alone may not reach. If traditional flossing string is too difficult to use, try interdental brushes, disposable flossing picks, or a hand-held water flosser.
Saliva Stimulation: To prevent dry mouth, drink plenty of water throughout the day to stay hydrated. You can also use sugar-free chewing gum or hard candies to stimulate saliva production. Your dentist may also advise you to avoid mouthwashes, as they can contribute to dry mouth.
Denture Care: Dentures may look like natural teeth, but they require special care. If you wear dentures, follow the instructions for cleaning and care given by your dentist and report right away if your dentures cause any problems such as pain, discomfort, or other issues. Visit your denturist annually to ensure your dentures are in working order and fit your mouth perfectly. Speaking of which…
Regular Dental Check-ups: Visit your dentist every six months for check-ups and professional cleanings. Dental technicians can identify and address any oral health issues before they worsen. Discuss any concerns or changes in your oral health during these visits.
Unfortunately, since Medicare doesn’t cover most types of dental care, many older adults don’t visit the dentist as often as they should. If this describes your situation, Florida PACE Centers may be able to help. We manage and coordinate all of your medical needs across a full continuum of care – which includes dentists as well as other specialists. Learn more and see if you qualify.
Remember, good oral health is a lifelong commitment, and it’s never too late to start adopting healthy habits. By following these tips, you can promote your oral health and maintain a beautiful smile well into your golden years.