Age-Proof Your Smile: Dental Care Tips for Seniors

Your oral health is important to your overall health and this becomes even more so as you age. According to Dr. Len Brennan of the Harvard School of Medicine, “Good dental health…can protect against many other age-related diseases. A healthy mouth really can lead to a healthier body.”

Many older people recognize the value of continued exercise, eating right, and mental wellness. But they sometimes don’t realize their teeth and gums need more care, too. Without increased attention, gum disease, inflammation, and tooth loss are the results.

Periodontal (gum) disease is a leading cause of tooth loss in all age groups, but especially for older people. Falls that cause an injury to the mouth may also cause tooth loss. Dental cavities happen in older adults nearly twice as often as in younger adults. When considering advanced age, the normal risk factors for tooth loss, including poor oral hygiene, gum disease (gingivitis), dry mouth, tobacco use, and some prescription medications, become even more significant. 

In this article, we will discuss the value of maintaining good dental care into your golden years and outline some dental care tips for seniors to maintain optimal oral health.

 

The Importance of Good Dental Care for Seniors

Throughout life, the importance of a daily routine to care for the teeth and gums is emphasized. That routine–brushing twice a day and flossing once a day–becomes even more important with advanced age and an increased likelihood of gum disease and tooth sensitivity. 

Here are some things to keep in mind about aging and dental health:

  • Poor oral health can have severe consequences. The typical aging person’s health can be complicated by conditions like hypertension, diabetes, and other changes associated with aging. Plus, research shows that gum inflammation (gingivitis) raises the risk for heart disease, blood vessel blockage, strokes, and lung disease.
  • Older adults often use several prescription or over-the-counter medications, which makes them more likely to experience medication errors, drug interactions, or adverse drug reactions. This may happen with medications used in dental procedures, too.

  • Aging often creates sensory, physical, and cognitive impairments. Studies found that older adults who had lost more than one tooth had an almost 50% higher risk of developing cognitive impairment and a 28% higher risk of being diagnosed with dementia. This then makes it more challenging to follow home health care instructions and patient education. 
  • Age-related dental conditions like dry mouth, root problems, and periodontitis occur along with an increased sensitivity to drugs used in dental procedures.
  • Poor dental health can undermine social interaction and lead to isolation. Poor denture fit, missing teeth, and sunken facial features can cause embarrassment and a tendency to avoid interactions with others.
  • Tooth sensitivity happens to many people as they age, and becomes more problematic when eating or drinking hot or cold food. Grinding the teeth during sleep can also cause sensitivity. Some toothpaste ingredients erode tooth enamel over time. The gums also shrink, exposing the tooth’s root more than normal. 
  • Harmful bacteria from poor oral health can travel throughout the body, potentially infecting body implants such as artificial joints (hips, shoulders, etc.)  and replacement heart valves.

These issues make it even more important to get routine dental checkups. Most dentists recommend that seniors schedule dental appointments twice yearly to thoroughly evaluate the patient’s oral health, perform more frequent cleanings, and catch any potential issues early. 

 

Pro Dental Tips for Seniors for Optimal Oral Health

Besides keeping up with more frequent dental appointments and cleanings, here are some additional dental care tips for seniors:

Stay Hydrated

Aside from the health benefits of drinking water, it also keeps the mouth wet.  Dry mouth is a common side effect of many medications and is linked with such health conditions as diabetes, stroke, Alzheimer’s, and autoimmune diseases. It makes tasting, chewing, swallowing, and even talking difficult. Staying hydrated combats dry mouth and lessens the chance of these conditions.

 

Eat a Balanced Diet

Seniors must eat a dental-friendly diet containing all food groups, high in fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains. Too much sugar in any diet leads to many health issues, including tooth decay. Keeping the body healthy by eating properly also helps maintain good oral health, too.

Incorporating six specific vitamins and minerals into the diet will help strengthen the enamel in teeth: calcium, vitamin C, vitamin D, vitamin A, phosphorus, and vitamin K. 

Consider adapting your diet to include some of these essential vitamins and minerals to help support your oral health.

 

Use a Good Mouthwash Daily

A mouthwash that is alcohol-free and contains an antimicrobial ingredient is most helpful. This will minimize bacteria and keep the breath fresh and the mouth hydrated. Having mouthwash available helps when brushing and flossing aren’t possible until later. It’s a necessary tool in the dental care toolbox!

 

Caring for Dentures

Many seniors wear dentures to enhance their lives by enabling them to chew, speak, and smile more normally again. There are some specific tips to follow that will help the dentures last a long time and will also keep the mouth healthy:

  1. Remove and clean dentures every day with a soft toothbrush and a mild denture cleaner.
  2. Soak dentures in a denture cleaning solution when not wearing them to avoid warping. Don’t let them dry out when they aren’t being used.
  3. Whenever removing the dentures, rinse the mouth to remove any adhesive. Also, massage the gums to increase the flow of blood.
  4. Let your dentist know if you see any evidence of wear or damage to your dentures, such as cracks or misalignment.
  5. Have your dentures checked periodically by your dentist to ensure a continued proper fit. Our mouths change as we age and this never stops. 

 

We Care About Our Senior Patients and Their Dental Health!

Aging brings with it several changes in the oral health of senior patients. There is solid evidence that ignoring our dental health will also adversely affect our overall health in very serious ways. 

By following the dental tips for seniors that we’ve covered above and increasing the vigilance of your oral care, these changes can be managed and the teeth can be protected. 

The team here at Wilmington Dental Associates takes our responsibility to all patients seriously and we look forward to working with you and all of our elderly patients. Let us know if you have any questions or concerns about oral health at any age or would like to schedule an appointment. Contact us today!

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