As we get older, our oral health becomes more important than ever. Maintaining proper oral hygiene is not just for your teeth and gums. Senior adults have unique dental needs and challenges. This includes a vital link between a person’s general health and their oral health. A healthy mouth makes all the difference in the world if you want to feel good, stay healthy, and look great throughout your life. By adopting healthy oral habits at home, seeking regular dental care, and making smart choices about diet and lifestyle, you will be well on your way to keeping your teeth strong and sparkling for a lifetime.
Across the United States, 10,000 adults reach senior age every day and the number is growing rapidly. Bt age 65, statistics show that older adults are managing a minimum of two chronic conditions and are usually taking multiple medications. The taking of multiple medications increases their risk for dry mouth, which can quickly lead to tooth decay and gum disease. Untreated dental disease can result in pain, infection, poor nutrition, and lowered self esteem, all of which can have a very large impact on the quality of life.
A senior with good oral health not only makes it easier to eat nutritious foods, but it can also give you the confidence to smile, talk, and maintain a high self esteem. Research has shown seniors with good oral health are less likely to develop heart disease, strokes, or diabetes.
Certain dental health problems are more common in seniors, they include the following:
1) Tooth Cavities. Cavities are caused by plaque bacteria which breakdown the enamel and cause holes in the teeth. Soft diet, dry mouth, limited dexterity, a large number of crowns and fillings to clean around, and high sugars or acids in your diet will increase your chances of decay.
2) Periodontal Disease. Seniors are at higher risk of periodontal disease (gum disease). Gum disease occurs when plaque builds up beneath your gum line causing inflammation and bone loss. Certain medications cause the gums to swell and bleed and make it more difficult to remove plaque. This may cause gum recession and periodontal disease.
3) Root Cavities. The roots of the teeth can also decay. Once gums recede, the unprotected root surface is very easy for the plaque bacteria to attack. With no enamel to protect it, the cavity can progress rapidly to the nerve of the tooth.
4) Tooth Sensitivity. As we get older, our gums may recede, exposing root surfaces. The roots have nerve endings close to the surface which can become increasingly sensitive to hot, cold, brushing, and sweets. If you experience sensitivity, try a sensitivity toothpaste (like Colgate Sensitive Pro-Health) . 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.
5) Dry mouth or Xerostomia. Dry mouth is a common condition in the senior population and one that may be caused by medications or certain medical disorders (like radiation therapy for cancer). If this condition is left untreated, it can cause damage to your teeth. Dry mouth occurs when there is reduced salivary flow. Plaque tends to build up when the mouth is dry, putting you at an increased risk for cavities. Your dentist can recommend multiple methods to restore moisture in your mouth, as well as treatments or medications to help prevent the development of cavities. Two products I recommend are Biotene and Listerine Zero.
6) Denture Issues. Many older people wear dentures. If they are not properly cared for, they can cause dental health problems, especially fungal infections such as yeast. A sign of a yeast infection is bright red irritated tissue, itchiness, burning, or a white creamy build up on oral tissues or denture. Just because you have dentures does not mean you do not need a dental examination. You should have an annual check of your denture fit, oral tissues, and oral cancer screening. As well as a jaw x-ray every five years to detect growth or changes in the bone.
To help keep your mouth healthy and your teeth strong as we age:
Brush. Brushing your teeth can help to remove the thin film of bacteria that builds up on your teeth after eating. So brush at least twice a day with a soft bristle toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste. An electric toothbrush is recommended for seniors as it easier for them to maintain hygiene properly. Our office recommends the Rotadent electric toothbrush. We also recommend the use of a plaque disclosing solution. This allows the patient to see visually if they left any plaque behind and work on ares they are missing.
Floss. Flossing your teeth can help prevent plaque from building up between teeth. Floss at least once a day. We also recommend the use of floss mate. A variety of companies (Butler GUM floss mate or REACH access flosser), make these products and are easily found at the local drug store. These products work well in patients with minimal or reduced dexterity.
Keep up with dentist appointments. If you maintain a regular appointment schedule your dentist can monitor your dental health and make adjustments to your care to avoid serious problems down the road. Routine dental examinations and cleanings are an important part of maintaining good dental health.
If you smoke…QUIT! In addition to increasing your risk of many health conditions, smoking can increase your risk of tooth decay, gum disease, and oral cancer. There are a variety of methods available to quit to make it as painless a possible.
Take care of dentures. If you have dentures, see your dentist regularly (we recommend at least once a year) to make sure they are fitting properly.
Keep your dentures clean by brushing and rinsing them daily and soaking them at night in a denture cleansing liquid.
There are many dental health challenges as we age, but maintaining good oral hygiene and monitoring to your dental health can keep your smile sparkling for many years to come.