Proper dental care is an absolute necessity for people of any age, but especially for seniors, who are more prone to devastating dental conditions such as gum disease, tooth loss, oral cancer, and more. Read on to learn the detriments of neglecting dental care for seniors, as well as tips for keeping your teeth strong and healthy, no matter what age you are.
The Detriments of Neglecting Dental Care for Seniors—Gum Disease, Tooth Decay, and More
As we age, our bodies gradually start to feel the wear and tear that comes with growing older—This applies to our teeth too. Years of continuous chewing, consumption of acidic or sugary foods, teeth grinding, tobacco use, plaque buildup, and tooth decay can have a significant, damaging effect on our dental health, as well as our overall health.
Here are some of the dental conditions that seniors need to be especially wary of:
- Tooth Discoloration
- Dental Caries (Tooth Decay)
- Tooth Loss
- Gum Disease: Gingivitis and Periodontitis
- Xerostomia (Dry Mouth)
- Oral Mucosa
- Oral Infections
- Mouth Ulcerations
- Oral Cancer
- Halitosis (Bad Breath)
Despite the increased likelihood of contracting these conditions as you age, you can prevent the majority of them by being proactive and practicing proper dental hygiene throughout your life.
7 Ways to Avoid Dental Ailments and Improve Oral Hygiene for Seniors
1. You’ve Heard it Before: Brush Your Teeth Twice a Day
Brushing your teeth twice a day is the most basic and repetitive dental advice out there, yet it still often goes unheeded. In fact, 31 percent of Americans admit to brushing their teeth once a day instead of the recommended two times, with 2 percent of all Americans skipping teeth brushing altogether. However, brushing your teeth is essential to good oral hygiene, as it kills harmful bacteria, freshens your breath, and removes plaque buildup that can lead to more serious issues such as gum disease, tooth decay, or other oral infections.
Dentists recommend brushing your teeth (and tongue) at least twice a day for about two to three minutes per session, waiting at least 30 minutes after eating. It is also recommended that you use fluoride toothpaste (effective for combatting tooth decay) and a soft-to-medium toothbrush, as hard toothbrushes can do more damage, especially to more brittle, worn-down teeth often found in seniors. Electric toothbrushes are also a good alternative for older people who may struggle with dexterity or have conditions such as Arthritis that can make teeth brushing a more difficult or painful experience.
2. Don't Forget to Floss...
It may not be fun fishing tiny bits of food out of our teeth, but no matter how hard we try to stay in denial, flossing is still necessary for healthy dental hygiene. Flossing doesn’t only dislodge food that is stuck between your teeth, but it also may reduce bad breath and gum disease by removing plaque that forms along the gum line. Generally, dentists recommend flossing once a day. It is also recommended that you floss before brushing your teeth, as flossing slightly opens up the gaps between your teeth, allowing the fluoride from your toothpaste to better clean them by seeping in between each tooth.
3. Dentures Deserve Proper Dental Care Too
Although dentures are a great alternative to strong, healthy teeth for those that have lost some or all of their own teeth, dentures do not equal less work or mean that you can now neglect your oralcare. Like regular teeth, dentures need to be delicately handled, properly cleaned, and kept moist when they are out of your mouth. Dentists recommend brushing your own remaining teeth, gums, tongue, as well as your dentures, twice a day. Much like failing to brush your own teeth, neglecting to clean your dentures can also lead to dental problems such as tooth decay, bad breath, gum disease, and oral thrush.
It is also recommended that you submerge your dentures into an overnight denture-cleaning solution when they are out of your mouth to keep them moist and clean. Forgetting to keep them moist when they are out of your mouth can cause the denture material to dry up and change shape. As far as eating goes, just like real teeth, you should be wary of foods that are sticky or have hard, sharp edges. Remember to always treat your dentures with care, as you would your own teeth.
4. You Are What You Eat—And So Are Your Teeth
Eating a healthy, balanced diet isn’t just beneficial to the overall health of your body but also to your pearly whites. Fizzy drinks, foods that stick to the teeth, and foods that are highly acidic or high in refined sugar are all sneaky culprits that can damage teeth or lead to tooth decay. For this reason, it is important to eat a balanced diet full of nutritious foods containing vitamins and minerals that support strong teeth such as vitamin C, vitamin D, calcium, and phosphorous.
Furthermore, protecting your teeth as a senior isn’t just about avoiding too many sticky foods, carbonated beverages, or sweets. Unfortunately, with weaker teeth comes greater responsibility. Biting down on hard foods that are difficult to chew such as ice, popcorn, stale bread, fruit and olive pits, or nuts can increase the risk of breaking already fragile teeth. Try to opt for softer foods that won’t get stuck in your teeth, won’t break down your enamel, and are easier to chew.
5. Avoid Tobacco Products...One of the Teeth’s Worst Enemies!
Most everyone is aware of the negative effects that smoking and chewing tobacco have on your lungs and throat, but many don’t realize the devastating impact it can have on your mouth, teeth, and gums. Smoking and chewing tobacco don’t only cause bad breath that constantly needs to be freshened with gums, toothpaste, or mouthwash, but they also cause stained yellow or brown teeth. This is caused by the heavy concentrations of nicotine and tar found in tobacco. Smoking and chewing tobacco also lead to a buildup of bacterial plaque, which can lead to gum disease—the leading cause of tooth loss in adults. Beyond this, smoking or chewing tobacco can also cause mouth cancer, in addition to lung and throat cancer. Do yourself a favor, and spare yourself from all of the harm that tobacco inflicts on your body.
6. Rinse with a Fluoride Mouthwash
While mouthwashes are not a replacement for flossing and brushing your teeth twice a day, swishing with a fluoride mouthwash can help freshen your breath in between meals and prevent tooth decay. Mouthwashes may also be prescribed to you by your dentists, particularly if you have gum disease. However, dentists recommended that you don’t use mouthwash right after brushing your teeth, as it can wash away beneficial ingredients left on your teeth such as fluoride. For this reason, you should rinse with mouthwash at a different time, such as after a meal. For optimal benefits, you should also not eat or drink for 30 minutes after using a fluoride mouthwash.
7. Visit the Dentist Frequently—Don't Wait to Get Help with a Dental Care Emergency
Don’t wait until something is wrong to visit your dentist. Regular checkups with your dentist ensure that you catch problems in the early stages, staying ahead of serious dental complications before it’s too late. Similarly, if you are experiencing any dental discomfort, you should not wait until the problem worsens to schedule an appointment with your dentist. Remember that prevention is the best way to protect you and your precious teeth, ensuring that you remain strong, healthy, and confident enough to show off that beautiful smile.