Dental care is essential at any age, but it’s especially important for seniors. Unfortunately, many people don’t think about dental care until they start experiencing problems.
As we age, we may face certain oral health issues such as dry mouth, attrition, diseases, root decay, and sensitivity. As we get older, dental hygiene is more important than ever if you want to prevent dental health issues in the future. According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, 16% of seniors aged 65 and older report that the condition of their teeth and mouth is poor (1). Not taking care of aging teeth can lead to many oral health issues and even increase the risk for diabetes and heart disease (2).
Caring For Seniors’ Oral Health
Help care for your aging parents’ teeth by following the simple hygiene tips below!
Visit your dentist at least twice a year
Regular dentist checkups help detect problems before they get worse. Set a reminder and mark your calendars every 6 months to make a dentist trip. The dentist will check your loved one’s gums and teeth to make sure they are in good shape.
If your loved one has dementia, make sure to schedule the appointments necessary to help keep their teeth healthy. Depending on your senior’s teeth conditions, you might need to make a few trips a year. Use reminders on your smartphone and calendar apps of any upcoming checkups.
Brush and floss daily
In order to have healthy, clean teeth, flossing and brushing regularly are key. In older adults, it may be difficult to brush or floss due to arthritis, but there are alternative tools they can use.
You can purchase ready-to-use dental flossers or use a water floss tool. Electric toothbrushes have also been proven to work better than manual toothbrushes, and they have a helpful timer installed.
Always tell dementia patients what you are going to do before doing so. This will eliminate confusion for them and make brushing and flossing daily easier for you.
Use antibacterial mouthwash
Use mouthwash after brushing and flossing to help reduce the buildup of plaque (3). During your next dental visit, ask your dentist which mouthwash is right for your loved one. Luckily there are many options to choose from, depending on your specific concerns. There are mouthwashes for bad breath, dry mouth, or gum issues. Please note, mouthwash should not replace your regular brushing and flossing routine.
Talk with your dentist about alternatives if swallowing mouthwash is an issue for your loved one.
Switch to a fluoride toothpaste or fluoride mouthwash. Older individuals have an increased risk for cavities and fortunately, fluoride is a leading defense against tooth decay. It works by fighting germs that can lead to decay, as well as providing a protective barrier for your teeth (4). You do not want cavities to form and especially ignore them because they can result in tooth damage, infection, and in some cases, tooth loss.
Avoid tobacco at all costs. Tobacco has been linked to an increased risk of mouth and throat cancer. Chewing tobacco can also lead to more decay because of the sugar it contains (3). According to the American Cancer Society, the average age of most people diagnosed with oral cancers is 63, but it can also occur in young people. Just over 20% (1 in 5) of cases occur in patients younger than 55.
Related: 7 Tips for Healthy Lung Aging
Monitor your sugar intake
Sugar = cavities. We know that sugar plays a big role in cavities but this also includes processed foods with added sugar. Try to limit your intake and if you have a sweet tooth, try out a sugar-free alternative.
Drink lots of water
Instead of reaching for the sugary drinks, pour your loved one a glass of water. Sugar-sweetened beverages are the number one source of added sugars in the typical diet of those in the U.S., and sipping on soda, juice, or other sugary drinks can lead to a higher risk of cavities (5).
Care for your dentures
Dentures require special care and it’s important to follow your dentist’s instructions to care for them. During your checkups get your loved one’s dentures checked out or if your loved one is experiencing any problems with them.
Get your daily dose of calcium
Older adults need 1,000 milligrams a day of calcium to prevent osteoporosis which can affect the bone surrounding their teeth (3). You can find calcium in dairy products, green leafy vegetables like kale and spinach, or fish with edible soft bones such as sardines or canned salmon. Eat more of these to keep your loved one’s bones and teeth strong.
Limit sugary and acidic foods
Acids from sugary foods erode the enamel of your teeth and lead to cavities (4). You can still enjoy acidic fruits and coffee but you should be mindful of your intake. As much as possible, brush your teeth after having sugary and acidic beverages or foods.
Related: 7 Best Foods For A Healthy Brain
Look for early signs of gum disease
If your loved one is experiencing any redness, swelling, bleeding gums, dry mouth, loose teeth, or mouth pain, you should visit your dentist right away. These are early symptoms of gum disease.
Gum disease can be prevented with proper dental care. Make sure to brush and floss regularly, eat a balanced diet, and visit the dentist for regular checkups.
These are just some of the dental care tips that you can follow to ensure that your senior loved ones have good oral health. Aside from following these tips, it is also important to encourage them to see their dentist regularly for professional cleaning and check-up. Prevention is always better than cure so make sure to encourage your elderly loved ones to take care of their teeth.
Benefits Of Achieving Good Oral Health Outcomes
Of course, there are many benefits to having good oral health, especially as we age. Not only does it improve our appearance and give us a more youthful look, but it also allows us to avoid many dental problems that can arise from poor dental hygiene habits.
Some of the benefits of achieving good oral health outcomes include:
Avoiding tooth decay and gum disease
Tooth decay and gum disease are two of the most common dental problems that seniors face. By ensuring that your elderly loved ones maintain good oral hygiene habits, you can help them to avoid these issues and keep their smile looking healthy and bright.
Having a better overall sense of health
Maintaining good oral health is not just about avoiding dental problems – it also has a positive impact on our overall health. In fact, research has shown that people with poor dental health are more likely to suffer from other medical conditions, such as heart disease and stroke.
A bad case of gum disease or tooth decay can be really embarrassing for seniors, which can lead to a decrease in their self-confidence. By helping your elderly loved ones to achieve and maintain good oral health, you’ll also be giving them a boost in confidence.
Improving overall mental health and well-being
Good oral health outcomes have been linked to overall better mental health in seniors. In fact, research has shown that dental problems can lead to depression in older adults. Conversely, seniors who take good care of their teeth and gums tend to have a more positive outlook on life.
Reduced risk of falls
Falls are a common occurrence among seniors, and dental problems can actually increase the risk of falling. One study found that seniors with poor dental health were three times more likely to experience a fall than those with good oral health. This is likely due to the fact that dental problems can cause pain and discomfort, which can make it difficult for seniors to stay active and mobile.
There are many reasons why dental care is important for seniors, but these are just a few. If you’re a senior, be sure to visit your dentist regularly and take good care of your teeth and gums!
These days, dental care has become more accessible and affordable than ever before. There are also many dental care tips that seniors can follow to maintain good oral health. By following the tips above and working hard to maintain good oral health outcomes, seniors can be sure to enjoy a healthy smile for many years to come!