There’s no getting around the fact that, as we get older, we need to focus more of our time and attention on our health.
For some, this takes the form of daily aches and pains becoming more pronounced and irritating. For others, eyesight or hearing begin to fade, creating frustrating complications. For others, a major illness may seemingly come out of nowhere, changing our lives forever.
An area of our health that deserves just as much attention as these — but rarely receives it — is our oral health. As we age, we become prone to a number of oral health challenges that can result in pain or discomfort, as well as premature tooth loss, infection, or worse. Unlike many other health concerns that we have to face as we age, however, many of these oral care concerns are wholly preventable by establishing simple habits for self care.
Let’s look at why senior dental care can present unique oral health challenges, then go over the habits that can keep our mouths looking and feeling great no matter our age.
Oral health challenges seniors face
While no one is immune to the possibility of tooth decay, periodontal disease, or dangerous infections of the gum, older seniors are especially prone to these and similar afflictions. There are several reasons behind this:
- Dry mouth - Xerostomia, aka dry mouth, is a common side effect of numerous prescription drugs. Since all of us tend to take more prescriptions the older we get, this is a common, chronic issue among seniors. Dry mouth is more than just an uncomfortable inconvenience, however. Saliva is one of the body’s best and first lines of defense against harmful bacteria that can cause tooth decay, infections, and disease. It also aids in digestion. So, a lack of saliva can result in eating problems along with increased oral health issues.
- Reduced strength and coordination - Arthritis and other debilitating conditions can make it very difficult for older seniors to effectively brush and floss their teeth like they used to do. When these basic healthy habits are neglected, oral health problems are the natural result.
- Forgetfulness - It’s also natural for our short-term memory to become less acute as we get older. As a result, many seniors struggle to remember to brush, floss, or make it to the dentist every six months for a regular cleaning and examination. Again, this neglect can lead to dangerous oral health challenges.
- Ill-fitting or neglected dentures - For the reasons above (and others), some older Americans who already wear dentures or other dental apparatuses can struggle with infections, abrasions, and pain as a result of wearing dentures that don’t fit perfectly or failing to properly clean and care for false teeth.
Beyond these items that are especially common among seniors, they will still face the standard challenges everyone can run into, like cavities, sporadic gum disease, and others.
Healthcare habits seniors need to prioritize
"Many of these oral health concerns are wholly preventable by establishing simple habits for self care."
While older seniors will certainly face increasing challenges affecting their healthcare as a result of aging, most — if not all — of the senior dental care and oral health concerns described above can be prevented or treated successfully regardless of age. Here’s how:
- Brush twice a day with a good toothpaste for at least two minutes each time - If remembering to do this is difficult, try reminder apps on a phone, sticky notes on the bathroom mirror, or anything else that can keep it top of mind morning and night. If strength and coordination are the issue, try an electric toothbrush, which is far easier to control while still doing an excellent job of cleaning teeth.
- Floss at least once a day - Same recommendations as above for remembering to do this. If it’s difficult to physically handle traditional dental floss, consider trying any number of flossing tools or a water pick to accomplish the purpose.
- Rinse daily with an antibacterial mouthwash - Just 30-60 seconds of swishing mouthwash around can destroy millions of harmful bacteria, prevent infection, strengthen and remineralize tooth enamel, and promote saliva production if you’re dealing with dry mouth.
- Visit your dentist every six months - It’s impossible to overstate the importance of seeing a dentist twice a year for a professional cleaning and examination to confirm your teeth and gums are healthy. This examination can also provide your dentist with an opportunity to diagnose a number of systemic conditions (like diabetes, heart disease, or cancer) that often present earlier in the mouth than elsewhere in the body.
If you’d like to read more about dental help for seniors or explore oral health tips that can help you save on dental care, check out some of our articles below: