Oral Health Concerns for Older Adults Tuesday, 09 February 2016
As people age, oral health needs can change as well. Here are some things to think about:
You may begin to experience less pain or discomfort in your mouth, but this may not mean that your mouth is healthy. In some older adults, nerve changes may lessen sensitivity.
How to help – See your dentist regularly, as your dentist can check for signs of tooth decay, gum disease, poorly fitting dentures, and oral cancer.
A number of factors can cause dry mouth, including many medications. This can be detrimental; as saliva helps you eat and talk. It washes food away from the teeth and lessens the effect of acids in the mouth that can cause tooth decay. Saliva also carries minerals that keep teeth strong.
How to help – To combat the effects of dry mouth, take small sips of water throughout the day. You can also use sugar-free lozenges or chew sugar-free gum. Avoid alcohol and tobacco. A saliva substitute may also help.
Anyone can develop gum disease. Caused by a build-up of plaque, gum disease affects the attachment between your teeth and gums. Left untreated, gum disease may result in tooth loss. Older adults may also experience receding gums, which exposes the roots. Teeth with exposed roots may be at increased risk of developing decay or becoming loose.
How to help – Brush your teeth twice a day with a soft toothbrush along the gum line using fluoride-containing toothpaste. Clean between your teeth with floss or another tool designed for this task once a day. See your dentist regularly, because plaque can harden along the gum line, making it difficult to keep your teeth clean on your own. A professional cleaning is the only way to remove hardened plaque.
Tooth Decay (Cavities)
Several factors can increase your risk of experiencing tooth decay: sugars in food and drinks, dry mouth, not cleaning your teeth every day, and exposed tooth roots. Even teeth with fillings or crowns can develop cavities.
How to help – Luckily, the things you do to help prevent gum problems are the same things that can help you avoid cavities. Brush your teeth twice a day with a soft toothbrush along the gum line using fluoride-containing toothpaste, and clean between your teeth once a day. See your dentist regularly. Your dentist may suggest that you also use a fluoride-containing mouth rinse or an in-office fluoride treatment or varnish.
Tooth loss can affect what you eat and how you look, talk, and feel.
How to help – You may be able to restore your smile with implants or a partial or full denture. No matter how many teeth you have (even if you have lost them all), see your dentist regularly. Your dentist can check that all is well in your mouth, checking for things like sores, irritation, infection, and oral cancer.
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