It was once thought that tooth loss and dentures were inevitable as you age. This is NOT TRUE. Your teeth are meant to last a lifetime with proper care…
But teeth do age right along with you. And, as you get older, you enter into a 2nd phase of cavity-prone years. Dental professionals believe this might be because of dry mouth caused by the myriad of medications that senior citizens take. (Note: dry mouth is not caused by aging) Couple this with the fact that nerves become smaller and less receptive, making it harder for older people to detect and feel cavities and other problems in the mouth. That’s why after 60 it’s more important than ever to have regular dental visits.
Here are a few tips to maintain good oral health for seniors:
1. Continue to brush twice a day with a soft bristled toothbrush. If arthritis or range-of-motion is an issue for brushing effectively , use an electric toothbrush.
2. Floss. If you haven’t in the past – start. If you have always done it – continue. Once a day – EVERYDAY.
3. Drink tap water. No matter how old you are, it will provide you with the flouride needed to help prevent cavities.
4. Don’t smoke – it increases the potential for gum disease and tooth loss along with everything else you’ve been warned about over and over
5. If you wear dentures, remember that they need to be cleaned daily. Remove them at night.
6. Drink more water.
7. Chew sugar-free gum and suck on sugar-free candies
8. Avoid foods that irritate or cause dry mouth – like coffee, alcohol, fruit juices and carbonated soft drinks
9. Get a humidifier for your bedroom (and clean it per manufacturer’s instructions)
Once simple tasks can become very challenging as you or your loved ones age. And, like any health-related problem, it’s personal information that might not be readily shared.
Tell-tale signs that a senior might be having a dental problem can be detected by watching them chew their food – or seeing that they are eating less than normal. If you feel that a friend or family member is having problems with either their dentures or their dental hygiene, talk to your dentist. They can provide you with helpful tips and options. But don’t put this conversation off…
Dr. Jackie Schafer of Colorado Healthy Smiles in Lafayette, Colorado reminds seniors and those who care for the elderly, “Bacteria in the mouth can cause so many problems. From cardiovascular disease and cancer to diabetes and dementia, poor oral health can affect the entire body. In fact, people with gum disease are four times more likely to have Rheumatoid Arthritis.
It’s not just decay that you need to worry about. Bacteria can actually be inhaled into the lungs and cause breathing difficulties – even pneumonia.”