Proper dental care for seniors
involves unique considerations. Seniors are more likely to
suffer from a host of oral health issues that may result from
the natural aging process, the inability to receive proper
oral care due to financial constraints, and/or the inability
to provide dental hygiene care to themselves.
These factors, combined with the limited dental benefits provided
by state aid programs for the aged, blind, or disabled, leave
many seniors at risk of ignoring tooth decay and tooth infection
until there is no alternative but tooth extraction.
to tooth loss, seniors may experience tooth sensitivity or
tooth discoloration due to loss of tooth enamel and dentin
(hard, calcareous tissue beneath the enamel) or root deterioration
because of gum recession. Seniors are also more prone to periodontal
disease (gum disease) that results from improper dental hygiene,
poor diet, ill-fitting dental appliances, and diseases such
as cancer or diabetes. In fact, the supporting bone structure
for the teeth, including the jaw, may shift, which can play
havoc on a senior's bite and may contribute to tooth decay.
are also more likely to suffer from inflammation of gum tissue,
dry mouth syndrome (often caused by medications), or thrush
(a fungal disease causing ulcers and whitish spots on membranes
of the mouth due to its effect on the immune system).
Hygiene for Seniors
Brush, floss, and mouthwash properly to maintain dental hygiene,
as instructed by your dentist.
Look into special toothbrushes to clean hard-to-reach areas
of the mouth.
Know the warning signs that indicate your mouth, teeth,
or gums may be in jeopardy, including tooth sensitivity, teeth
grinding, pain, mouth sores, bumps (see oral cancer), swelling,
loose teeth, jaw popping or clicking, as well as difficulty
quenching thirst, swallowing or chewing (see dry mouth syndrome).
Visit your dentist, as often as he or she recommends, for
regular dental hygiene checkups.
Maintain dental appliances such as dentures and dental bridges
Consider seeing your dentist before and after surgery.
Tell your dentist about any medications that you are taking
or changes to medication.
If brushing and flossing are difficult, try to elongate
the toothbrush with tongue depressors or something similar,
or ask for assistance. Or try a soft washcloth or gauze to
remove debris from the teeth, and rinse frequently. Use this
method until you are able to brush your teeth again.
It's an indisputable
fact - our bodies change as we get older and so does our need
for dentistry. These changes take different forms in different
people, depending on our inherited physical traits, our lifestyle
and nutritional habits, and our medical conditions.
Age brings changes in oral health and your need for dental
care, too. There are some specific areas where seniors need
to pay close attention to protect and extend their oral health.
Color: Plaque is an invisible layer of bacteria that
forms on our teeth, and can trap stains at any age. But as
we get older, plaque builds up more quickly and is harder
to remove. At the same time, the tissue that lies underneath
the tooth enamel, called "dentin," is changing,
and those changes can make teeth appear darker. Finally, decades
of consuming coffee, tea, or tobacco leave stains that build
up over time.
and flossing are important, particularly first thing in the
morning and just before bed, to combat the plaque that builds
up overnight. You may also want to consult your dentist about
using commercial rinses that remove plaque.
Mouth: Many seniors experience a reduced flow of
saliva, sometimes as a side effect of medications such as
painkillers or decongestants. For some, the lack of moisture
inside the mouth can lead to sore throats, a burning sensation,
hoarseness, or difficulty swallowing. In addition, if you
leave dry mouth unattended, it can damage teeth, since saliva's
natural rinsing keeps bacteria washed away from teeth and
gums. Sugar-free chewing gum and hard candy will stimulate
natural saliva, and artificial saliva and oral rinses will
provide much-needed relief. Ask your dentist which commercial
products are the best for you.
If your gums begin to recede, the portion of the tooth that
used to be below the gum line is now exposed. Roots are softer
than tooth surfaces and are susceptible to decay; they are
also likely to be sensitive to hot and cold beverages and
food. Most people over age 50 suffer from some form of dental
care disease. Make sure you take good care of teeth and gums
with daily brushing and flossing. A word of caution: your
gums may be starting to thin. Brush thoroughly but gently
to keep from tearing your gums.
Your fillings are getting older, too. They can weaken or crack,
or your tooth may decay around the edges of the filling. As
a result, bacteria can seep into your tooth, causing more
decay. Regular check-ups will give your dentist the chance
to keep an eye on your existing fillings.
Disease: Daily cleaning and good nutrition are critical
for healthy gums. When gums become infected and diseased,
they set off a chain reaction that can result in losing teeth
or weakening the jawbone. Either condition creates more problems
for your health and increases your medical costs. Contact
your dentist if your gums become red or begin to bleed.
Nutrition: What you put into your mouth has a direct
impact on the health of your mouth -- and the health of the
rest of your body. As you age and your lifestyle changes,
keep your nutritional goals in mind. Balanced meals are one
the best ways you can contribute to your own good health.
Exams: The dentist will check your mouth, teeth,
and jaw for any problems. You should also mention any sores,
swelling, or pain you might be experiencing. Regular checkups
enable the dentist to spot problems early. Early resolution
of problems will help you keep your natural teeth.
Good dental care, regular check-ups, and good nutrition are
the keys to really keep you smiling in your golden years!