For Seniors: Don’t Brush Off Dental Care
Older adults may have dental concerns that can’t be totally taken care of with just
brushing and flossing.
Your dentist may have talked with you about the dental health issues that arise later
in life, such as dentures or dry mouth. You can keep your teeth and gums in fine shape
by continuing good dental care, no matter what concerns you have, the American Dental
Association (ADA) says.
Dentures may make your mouth less sensitive to hot foods and liquids. They also may
make it hard to notice bones or other harmful objects in your food.
Dentures need special treatment to keep them clean and free from food that can cause
stains, bad breath, or swollen gums. Have your dentist show you how to clean them
and wear them the right way. The ADA recommends that you care for your dentures as
you would your natural teeth. This includes brushing them daily and visiting your
dentist regularly. When you go to sleep, remove your dentures and put them in water
or a denture-cleaning liquid.
Partial dentures should be cared for in the same way. Because bacteria can collect
under the clasps or clips that keep partial dentures secure, be sure to give that
area special attention.
This condition happens when the salivary glands do not make enough saliva. You may
have trouble swallowing, tasting, or even speaking. Dry mouth is not a normal part
of aging. Medicines for depression and high blood pressure often cause dry mouth.
Dry mouth can also be caused by diabetes, Sjogren disease, or Parkinson disease.
See your dentist if you have dry mouth. Without enough saliva to rinse away food pieces
from your teeth, you can develop tooth decay, the ADA says. Your dentist can prescribe
a medicine to help your salivary glands work correctly. You can improve the condition
by drinking plenty of water and reducing your intake of alcohol, caffeine, and tobacco.
These can dry out your mouth. Your dentist or healthcare provider also might suggest
using artificial saliva. This is available at most drugstores. Some people find sucking
on sugar-free hard candy useful.
Gum disease affects both the gums and the bones that hold your teeth in place. According
to the National Institute on Aging, when plaque stays on your teeth for an extended
period, it forms a hard covering called tartar that won't come off with brushing.
Tartar can lead to gum disease.
The key to preventing gum disease is to brush and floss regularly, which prevents
plaque from sticking to your teeth. If plaque is allowed to linger, you could develop
gingivitis, which causes your gums to become red and swollen and to bleed. The ADA
states that left untreated, gingivitis can develop into periodontitis, a gum disease
that can wear away the gums and the bones that support your teeth. Food stuck between
the teeth, smoking, smokeless tobacco, ill-fitting bridges, and partial dentures can
make gum disease worse.
Keep your old habits
The problems your dentist warned you about as a child should still concern you. Cavities
and gum disease are things to watch for throughout your life. To protect against these
lifelong concerns — and the new complications that may develop with age — keep up
these good dental habits:
Brush and floss daily.
Visit your dentist regularly.
Eat a balanced diet.
Avoid tobacco. Smoking increases gum disease, tooth decay, and tooth loss.