Did you know that oral health is related to overall wellbeing? That is why it’s so important to take care of your teeth and gums! Daily oral hygiene, regular visits to the dentist for cleanings and checkups and education are essential to ensuring oral health. Seniors are especially at risk for a number of dental problems, including tooth decay and gum disease; according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one-fourth of adults age 65 and older have no remaining teeth. Gum disease is associated with chronic conditions like diabetes, heart disease, stroke and respiratory disease. Most people know that they should brush and floss every day, but what else can seniors do to keep their mouths happy and healthy?
Here are top five tips for seniors who want to keep their teeth healthy as they age:
- Stay hydrated! Many medications often taken by seniors can cause dry mouth. This is a problem, because saliva washes away bacteria and helps prevent tooth decay. To counter this, seniors should drink plenty of water and limit their intake of caffeine and alcohol.
- Hack Your Toothbrush. Classic toothbrushes can be difficult to grip, especially for seniors with arthritis. Older adults or their caregivers can make their toothbrushes easier to use by sticking the end into a sponge or tennis ball. If you’re not into a DIY solution, try an electric toothbrush as they tend to have thicker handles than regular toothbrushes. And remember, toothbrushes should be changed 3 to 4 times a year.
- Treat your dentures like regular teeth. Use a toothbrush to clean your dentures every day with denture powder or baking soda. Remember that when you’re not using your dentures, you should keep them in water or in a denture cleaning solution.
- Get to know your dentist. Let’s face it, no one really likes going to the dentist, but regular cleanings (ideally every 6 months) will help keep your pearly whites looking and feeling great. It will also help your dentist catch any problems before they become bigger issues. We recommend looking for a dentist that specializes in treating older adults.
- Watch what you eat. Snacking on certain foods and drinks (like sweets and soda) can increase your risk for tooth decay – bacteria in the mouth break down sugars and produce acids that can erode enamel. If you must have a sweet treat, eat it at the end of a meal when your mouth is already producing sufficient amounts of saliva.
One final thing to note: some seniors, especially those suffering from Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s, may reach a point where they are unable to brush their teeth by themselves. If this is the case, caregivers should help them brush at least twice a day and floss at least once a day. Not brushing and flossing results in the buildup of plaque, which increases the risk for tooth decay and gum disease. In addition, food remnants that become caught in the teeth could later become choking hazards. You can find more information and tips about caring for your teeth and gums in Chapter 11 of our book, The Handbook of Live-In Care: A Guide for Caregivers.
The good news is almost all tooth decay and most cases of gum disease can be prevented with proper oral hygiene so make time for your teeth and gums!