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The Basics of Oral Care for Seniors

April 18, 2022

Proper oral care is crucial for maintaining good overall health and well-being. Seniors who recognize the importance of a stellar oral hygiene routine and regular visits to a family dentist in Aurora, CO, manage to keep their natural teeth healthy later in life.  

family dentist in Aurora, CO, checking an old man's mouth

Facts About Dental Health for Seniors

What Are the Most Common Oral Health Issues in the Elderly?

Dental experts confirm the direct link between the health of an older adult’s teeth and their overall health. Moreover, many health risks for seniors are related to their teeth and gums. If you’re over the age of 55, your risk for specific oral health problems significantly increases.  

  • Dry Mouth  

A dry mouth or xerostomia occurs when the salivary glands don’t produce enough saliva to keep the mouth wet. Although having a dry mouth isn’t a serious condition on its own, it can be a symptom of an underlying illness that requires medical attention. Since xerostomia is a normal part of the aging process, it affects 30% of individuals older than 65 years and 40% of those who are over 80 years.

In most cases, xerostomia is a side-effect of medications for heart problems, hypertension, and diabetes. An older person who doesn’t have enough saliva in the mouth will experience difficulty chewing and swallowing food. Additionally, the condition puts them at risk for tooth decay and gum disease.  

  • Root Decay

In most cases, cavities develop at the gum line instead of at the edge of fillings. If oral hygiene is neglected, plaque can quickly build up on an older person’s teeth and cause tooth decay around their teeth’s roots.  

For this reason, a senior who has some or all of their natural teeth are at risk of tooth decay – especially in those with diabetes or those who regularly consume foods with high sugar content.  

  • Periodontal Disease

Periodontal disease, also known as gum disease, is caused by the buildup of plaque that results in the inflammation and infections of the gums and bones that hold the teeth in place. If left untreated, it leads to difficulty chewing, bleeding, pain, inflammation, and tooth loss.

This condition increases with age, affecting 70.1% of adults who are 65 years and older. As a result, many seniors have trouble with their gums, even with established oral hygiene routines. However, periodontal complications affecting seniors with diabetes can worsen their symptoms.  

  • Oral Cancer

While oral cancers represent around 3% of all cancers diagnosed in the country, incidents rates for this disease are highest among older men who chew tobacco or smoke cigarettes, pipes, or cigars.  

  • Tooth Loss

Did you know that one in five adults aged 65 years and older have lost all their teeth? Since seniors with missing teeth can’t enjoy fresh fruits and vegetables, tooth loss can significantly affect their nutrition.  

family dentist in Aurora, CO, checking a woman's teeth

How Can Seniors Keep Their Teeth and Gums Healthy?  

Since seniors have special considerations for their dental health, more care and oversight are necessary to help them steer clear of serious oral health issues. The elderly and their caregivers should increase their awareness of proper dental habits and dental well-being.  

  • Brush at Least Twice a Day

Seniors should use a soft-bristled toothbrush and toothpaste containing fluoride to clean their teeth at least twice a day. However, dentists may advise those with severe gum conditions to use a hard-bristled toothbrush. If tooth sensitivity is an issue, they should consider using toothpaste for sensitive teeth.  

Moreover, brushing motions should be gentle and circular to ensure that they cover the gum line. It’s important to note that seniors should brush for two minutes each time. Depending on the state of the bristles, a senior should replace their toothbrush every three or four months.  

  • Floss at Least Once a Day

Maintaining a regular flossing schedule can help seniors improve their oral health outcomes and reduce their risk of gum disease. Dental professionals recommend flossing at least once daily to eliminate food particles from teeth. Moreover, dentists may recommend using a single-use, one-handed flossing kit for older adults who find regular floss too difficult to use.  

  • Rinse with Antibacterial Mouthwash One to Two Times Daily

Rinsing with a mouth wash is considered the last step because most people are less likely to floss and brush effectively if their mouth already feels clean. To supplement their brushing and flossing routine, seniors should gargle with an antiseptic or antibacterial mouthwash one to two times a day.  

While alcohol-free mouthwash can be less aggressive in terms of taste, it’s every bit as effective at decreasing the likelihood of plaque buildup and preventing cavities.  

  • Take Calcium Supplements

Calcium is one of the essential nutrients for healthy teeth because it strengthens the tooth enamel and the bone that supports the teeth.  

Osteoporosis refers to a disease that breaks down the bones of the body. Since this condition mainly affects older adults, seniors should increase their calcium intake to keep their teeth and bones strong and healthy.  

  • Hydrate Often

Medications that cause dry mouth will eventually lead to enamel erosion. Seniors who regularly take these medications should drink plenty of water every day. Although the exact amount of water each senior needs will depend on their energy output, body weight, and the current climate, the general recommendation is to drink around 64 ounces of water daily.

  • Avoid Using Tobacco Products

Smoking or using tobacco products can also negatively impact an individual’s oral health and overall health. Besides causing stained teeth and tooth decay, regular tobacco use is also associated with throat and mouth cancer, cardiovascular disease, and other serious medical conditions.  

  • Limit the Consumption of Sugary Foods

Foods and drinks with high sugar content can cause tooth decay, cavities, and gum disease. Although there’s nothing wrong with seniors enjoying an occasional sweet treat, they shouldn’t forget to brush their teeth immediately afterward.  

  • Properly Care for Dentures and Other Oral Appliances

In most cases, elderly dental care includes caring for dentures and other oral appliances. Following the dentist’s advice on denture care and maintenance will prevent any discomfort associated with denture wearing and ensure optimal oral health.  

  • Schedule Regular Dental Visits

Infrequent or the absence of regularly scheduled visits to the dentist will take its toll on a senior’s oral health. Conversely, regularly scheduled visits allow dental professionals to detect and treat oral health issues before they worsen or become more severe.

old man brushing his teeth as advised by his family dentist in Aurora, CO

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