11 Dental Health Tips for Seniors
As we age, it’s easy to think that parts of our body will simply “wear out” and begin to develop problems as the result of use over time. Many people assume they will lose their teeth eventually, regardless of how they live. This is simply not true!
By taking care of your mouth as you age, you can maintain healthy teeth and gums into your senior years. You’ll be able to continue to eat delicious foods and communicate confidently (and clearly). Plus, by taking care of your teeth, you set your body up for better overall health.
Why Senior Dental Health is Important
Your dental health is connected to the health of your entire body. The bacteria that lives and grows in your mouth can travel throughout the body and contribute to problems with our overall health.
Research is showing that bacteria in our mouth can contribute to a number of conditions, including:
Bacteria in the mouth can easily move into the bloodstream through gum tissue. It can also transfer through abrasions in the mouth from poorly fit dentures. This bacteria can contribute to the hallmark inflammation of cardiovascular disease that sets us up for a major cardiac event.
The bacteria can also be found in atherosclerotic plaques (the gunk that builds on the walls of our blood vessels that can cause them to narrow, or that can break off to cause heart attacks and strokes).
Believe it or not, bacteria in the mouth can end up in the lungs and cause infections. It also increases your chance of pneumonia, which is a serious concern for seniors.
Seniors with diabetes are at greater risk for developing gum disease. As a diabetic, it’s very important to control blood sugar levels. However, it’s difficult to control blood sugar levels when gum disease is present.
How to Care for Your Teeth As a Senior
Aging is a part of life, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do it gracefully and in the healthiest way possible. Here are 11 dental health tips to help you enjoy your golden years with a healthy, happy smile.
Brush and Floss Often
The common rule is to clean your teeth at least twice a day. However, as you age, your mouth requires a little extra time and attention. After the age of 50, plaque is much more difficult to get rid of. Plus, it builds up more quickly.
Don’t give nasty plaque a fighting chance. Get in the habit of brushing your teeth after every meal. You should also brush when you wake up and before going to bed. Consistent flossing is also very important-- we recommend doing it after every meal.
Use an Electric Toothbrush
An electric toothbrush with soft bristles is a great dental tool for all ages, but especially seniors. This type of toothbrush has a built-in timer which ensures you brush for the correct amount of time and get the best clean.
An electric toothbrush is particularly helpful for seniors with arthritis, as the brush itself takes care of all the work of brushing. No need to worry about the up-and-down and circular motions needed with the toothbrush to thoroughly clean the teeth and gums, the electric brush will do it for you.
Be Gentle on Your Gums
Gum health is as important as the health of your teeth, regardless of your age. But keeping your gums healthy may be a more gentle job than you think. Gum recession causes root surfaces of teeth to become exposed, making them more susceptible to sensitivity or decay. Recession can be caused by a heavy-handed approach to brushing and flossing.
So, be nice to your gums! Always make sure you use a soft-bristle toothbrush. As you brush, use slow, gentle movements. When flossing, be careful not to jam the floss down into your gums. Instead, use a gentle bouncing motion to carefully move the floss between the tooth and the gums around each tooth.
Using mouthwash is a great way to prevent cavities and slow the buildup of plaque around your teeth. Avoid using too much mouthwash, as it can upset the pH balance in your mouth. Rinsing with mouthwash once a day, right before bed is sufficient.
There are lots of different mouthwashes out there, and they all do different things. When choosing a mouthwash, I often recommend using an alcohol-free option for older adults. Alcohol can contribute to dry mouth, so this is especially important for those seniors who frequently experience this issue.
Clean Dentures Daily
Just like your teeth, dentures need to be cleaned every day. The only difference is dentures cannot be cleaned with toothpaste. Toothpaste is abrasive and could damage them. Instead, use a product designed specifically for dentures.
Cleaning dentures every day will help remove food and dental plaque and prevent them from stains. I usually recommend using a washcloth to clean dentures, or maybe an occasional gentle brushing with a toothbrush (because a hard scrub with the toothbrush can also be pretty abrasive). When you’re not wearing your dentures, ensure they don’t dry out. Soak them in a denture cleanse solution or in plain water.
It’s also important to give your mouth frequent breaks from your dentures. Taking them out each day helps maintain healthy gums. Get in the habit of cleaning your dentures before bed and keeping them out of your mouth for at least 4 hours while you sleep.
We all know smoking is terrible for your health. It also contributes to a host of dental problems, including:
- Lost sense of taste and smell
- Receding gums
- Tooth decay
- Gum disease
- Oral cancer
It’s never too late to stop smoking.The only way to decrease your risk these serious dental issues is to quit smoking.
Watch for Side Effects of Medications
The medications you take could cause problems for your mouth. The most common issue is dry mouth. Not only is a dry mouth annoying, it can allow plaque to adhere to teeth, accelerating tooth decay and causing gum disease.
Saliva is beneficial because it washes away plaque and neutralizes acids produced by oral bacteria and found in our diet. Without enough saliva, teeth are at bigger risk to start decaying.
Every time you begin a new medication, keep an eye out for any changes to your teeth, gums, and mouth. Always contact a dentist immediately if you notice a change.
Drink Lots of Water
Drinking water has numerous health benefits for your teeth and gums-- especially if it contains fluoride. Fluoridated water will strengthen your teeth, preventing cavities and tooth decay.
Water also helps keep your mouth clean by rinsing away and diluting the acids produced by bacteria in your mouth. It also is a natural deterrent for dry mouth and make it easier for you to swallow.
Traditional soda is loaded with sugar-- most have 40-60 grams per bottle! Sugar is a fuel for bacteria and leads to increase acidity in your mouth. This acid destroys your tooth enamel, creating cavities and often leading to tooth loss.
Drinking soda--especially caffeinated soda-- can also contribute to dry mouth. It’s best to avoid drinking sugary, caffeinated drinks as much as possible.
Chew Sugarless Gum
Chewing on gum can be a great way to help combat dry mouth, as it helps produce more saliva in your mouth. Gum is also a great way to deal with stress and can be helpful if you’re trying to quit smoking.
Whatever your reasons for chewing gum, always choose a sugarless option. As we learned earlier, sugar attacks your enamel and leads to serious dental issues. Look for gum sweetened with xylitol, a sugar alcohol that can help control bad oral bacteria.
Visit the Dentist Regularly
As you age, the nerves inside your mouth become less sensitive. Meaning, you may have dental issues and not even realize it!
Seeing your dentist for regular cleanings and oral exams is important for maintaining your oral health during your senior years. Make sure to visit the dentist every 6 months, and more frequently if you’re experiencing regular dental issues.
Make Your Dental Health a Priority at Every Stage of Life
Taking care of your teeth is an important part of taking care of your entire body. Making your dental health a priority will help you maintain a good quality of life regardless of your age.
If you’re due for a dentist appointment or have questions about taking care of your teeth as you age, call us at (540) 432-9992. Our team here at Batchelor Dentistry would love to answer your questions and help you achieve optimal dental health.