As we age, our health declines. This is true for oral health, too. In fact, oral health greatly impacts our overall health and well-being. Poor oral health can increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. It can also affect nutrition, speech, and overall quality of life. Fortunately, there are many things older adults can do to maintain good dental health.
Regular dental visits are recommended for all age groups. The American Dental Association recommends dental exams and cleanings every six months. Those with certain medical conditions or who take medications that increase oral health risks may need to visit the dentist more often. Since most older adults are on some kind of medication, regular visits can benefit them in a number of ways:
Early Detection and Prevention
At your dental appointments, the dentist and hygienist will perform a thorough cleaning to remove plaque and tartar around the gum line that can lead to cavities and gum disease. They will also carefully examine your teeth, gums, tongue, and other tissues to check for signs of decay, infection, oral cancer, dry mouth, gum recession, and other problems. Detecting issues early makes treatment easier and more effective.
Discussing Essential Dental Procedures
As part of your dental care, your dentist discusses any dental work you may need, such as fillings, crowns, bridges, implants, or dentures. Understanding recommended procedures reduces anxiety and helps ensure the best outcomes. If you’re looking for comprehensive dental services that address both preventive and aesthetic needs, consider searching for the best family and cosmetic dentistry options in your area. Many older adults are increasingly interested in cosmetic procedures to enhance their smiles, and choosing a top-quality dental practice ensures you receive state-of-the-art treatments tailored to your needs.
There are many dental products geared towards senior oral care needs. Your dentist may recommend specialized toothbrushes, flosses, or rinses. For those using dentures, there are specialized cleaners available. It’s essential to speak with your dentist about your oral hygiene habits and any challenges you face. They can help you choose products that make daily oral care more efficient.
Good oral hygiene is indispensable, and for older adults, some changes in oral care practices can bring considerable benefits.
Brush Teeth Thoroughly Twice a Day
It’s one of the best ways to prevent cavities, gingivitis, periodontal disease, and bad breath. For optimal oral hygiene, you should:
- Brush your teeth at least twice a day for two minutes each time.
- Use a soft-bristled toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste.
- Position the brush at a 45-degree angle towards your gums.
- Gently move the brush back and forth using short strokes. Make sure to brush all surfaces – front, back, top, and along the gumline.
- Don’t forget to also brush your tongue to help freshen your breath.
As we age, issues like arthritis can make brushing difficult. Try using an electric toothbrush or attaching a larger handle to a manual brush for an easier grip. Speak with your dentist about adaptive devices to aid brushing.
Replace your toothbrush every 3-4 months or sooner if the bristles become frayed.
Floss Once Daily
Flossing is critical for cleaning areas your toothbrush can’t reach. Food and bacteria can get trapped between teeth and cause plaque buildup, tartar, and eventually decay and gum recession.
- Make a habit of flossing once a day, ideally before bedtime.
- Use about 18 inches of floss, wrapping most of the floss around each middle finger.
- Guide the floss gently between your teeth, curving it into a C-shape against the side of each tooth to remove plaque and debris.
If you have trouble with manual dexterity, try floss holders or interdental cleaners. These tools have handles for an easier grip. Your dentist can recommend options. Don’t forget to floss implants, bridges, and braces too.
Incorporate Mouthwash in Your Routine
An antiseptic mouthwash provides extra protection by killing bacteria that brushing and flossing may have missed.
- Swish for 30-60 seconds once a day after brushing.
- Look for an alcohol-free formula with fluoride to help prevent cavities.
Mouthwash can also keep your breath fresh by preventing dry mouth and reducing bacterial growth. Some ingredients target plaque and gingivitis as well. Your dentist may recommend a therapeutic mouthwash if you have periodontal disease, oral thrush, or other specific conditions.
As the years go by, our bodies evolve, bringing necessary tweaks to our daily habits. Listed below are some lifestyle changes that can ensure our well-being, especially for our oral health:
Stay Hydrated and Chew Sugar-Free Gum
Drinking plenty of water helps wash away food particles and neutralizes acids from bacteria that erode tooth enamel. Aim for eight glasses of water per day. Sipping water after eating and drinking helps cleanse the mouth.
Chewing sugar-free gum also stimulates saliva flow, which rinses bacteria and debris away. Look for gum containing xylitol, which prevents cavities and tooth decay. Our saliva production can decrease as we age, so staying hydrated is key.
Follow a Tooth-Friendly Diet
A balanced diet with fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains, unsaturated fats, and dairy provides the necessary vitamins and minerals for good oral health.
Calcium-rich foods like milk, yogurt, and cheese help strengthen tooth enamel. Crunchy produce like apples, carrots, and celery help clean teeth. Stay away from sugary or acidic foods and beverages that can erode enamel. Limit snacking throughout the day to avoid constant acid attacks.
Stop Tobacco Use
Smoking and chewing tobacco dramatically increase the risk of oral cancer, gum disease, tooth loss, and staining.
Nicotine constricts blood vessels, reducing blood flow to the gums. This makes gum tissue more susceptible to bacterial infection. Tobacco smoke also changes oral bacteria levels. See your doctor for smoking cessation aids and counseling if needed.
Limit Alcohol and Caffeine
Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol causes dry mouth, allowing bacteria to proliferate.
Caffeine and alcohol both stain teeth, so drink them in moderation and avoid letting them linger in your mouth. Rinse with water after consuming. Staying hydrated also balances out the dehydrating effects of caffeinated and alcoholic drinks.
Good oral care is a lifelong endeavor, but it becomes especially important in the later years. Follow these tips to keep your mouth healthy as you age. Visit the dentist regularly for cleanings and exams to detect any problems early. Brush, floss, and use mouthwash daily to remove harmful plaque. Make sure your diet, lifestyle habits, and health conditions support your oral health. With diligent oral hygiene and professional care, your smile can stay vibrant and healthy well into your golden years.