September 10, 2017 marks National Grandparents’ Day in the U.S. — an opportunity for all of us to recognize the men and women who shaped us in ways we may not even completely understand, and to take the time to ensure they’re in a position to enjoy as long, healthy, and full a life as possible.
To that end, we’re sharing our very best oral health tips for seniors. Throughout this brief article we’ve included links to other articles that go into more depth on each topic discussed. If you’re a senior yourself, or if you’re a younger person with older family members you care about, we encourage you to take a few moments to review these tips and make sure you or the grandparents in your life are staying vigilant in maintaining this important aspect of their health.
Understand the importance of oral health for seniors
In comparison with headline-grabbing issues like cancer, heart disease, or diabetes, oral health is often placed on the back burner, especially if an individual isn’t currently experiencing any pain or discomfort. But, in reality, oral health has a tremendous impact on one’s overall health, and this connection only grows stronger as we age.
If seniors neglect aspects of their oral health, whether because of other health concerns or rising costs, they risk allowing serious issues to develop without timely diagnosis, sometimes rendering adequate treatment difficult or impossible.
Understand the unique oral health challenges seniors face
Maintaining excellent oral health is challenging for seniors for several reasons:
- As we age, a lifetime of wear-and-tear on our natural teeth can lead to cavities and other dental issues becoming more common.
- Having possibly grown up in a time or area where quality dental care wasn’t as readily available as it is today, many seniors are at a disadvantage, heading into their later years with chronic oral health issues or already relying on dentures or other dental appliances.
- Age itself and the fact that almost all seniors take a variety of prescription medications to treat various other conditions leads to common oral health concerns like dry mouth, tooth grinding, and infection becoming more likely.
- Many seniors are living on fixed incomes, making affordable dental care difficult to find. Since standard Medicare doesn’t offer dental coverage, private insurance is also a costly option that’s out of reach for many seniors.
Understand the truth about the inevitability of senior dental problems
"If seniors neglect aspects of their oral health, they risk allowing serious issues to develop without timely diagnosis, sometimes rendering adequate treatment difficult or impossible."
It’s important that older Americans realize that losing teeth to decay, bone loss, gum disease, and other oral health issues is not a natural part of growing older like greying hair or worsening eyesight. In fact, it’s absolutely possible for someone to live their entire life with all of their natural teeth, never facing a serious dental issue.
But, to accomplish that impressive feat, excellent oral health self-care habits are vital. This is just as important for seniors as for those who are younger, if not more so.
To that end, every senior should be actively following the basic tenets of quality oral self-care:
- Brush your teeth twice a day for at least two minutes each time.
- Floss properly at least once each day.
- Rinse once a day with an antibacterial mouthwash.
- Visit your dentist every six months for a professional cleaning and routine examination.
Understand what help is available and how to access it
Although seniors face some daunting challenges when it comes to maintaining excellent oral health, there are also numerous options available to help in meeting these challenges:
- In many communities, one or more dental practices may specialize in treating older patients.
- Many local government programs offer practical help such as transportation or appointment scheduling to assist seniors with adhering to smart oral health guidelines.
- A host of reasonably priced food and beverage alternatives are available at most grocery stores and restaurants that are healthier for your teeth.
- Dental discount programs designed especially for seniors can put quality care within reach of tight budgets.
- Specialty tools like electric toothbrushes and water picks can make it easier for seniors with mobility, coordination, or strength issues to effectively brush and floss their teeth.
If you’re one of America’s treasured grandparents — or if you treasure your own grandparents — please, take these valuable oral health tips to heart. There’s nothing sweeter than a grandparent’s smile, so let’s work together to keep that smile protected.