Tooth loss and decay don't have to be part of getting older. While many people assume that aging brings about dental health problems, the truth is that you can protect your teeth and gums and maintain a healthy smile throughout your lifetime. Understanding the connection between aging and dental health and the importance of oral care in elderly people will help you keep your teeth and maintain excellent oral health.
How Aging Impacts Dental Health
Getting older isn't itself a cause of dental issues, such as gum disease and cavities. Instead, many conditions and factors that accompany aging often also contribute to oral health concerns. Older adults are more likely to take medications that can lead to dry mouth and may have conditions, such as diabetes, that affect the health of their teeth. Arthritis can make it harder to brush your teeth and floss.
Since your oral health often has an impact on your overall health, it's important to do what you can to protect your teeth and gums as you get older.
Dental Care Tips for Seniors
In many ways, dental care for seniors is the same as dental care for all adults. Following these tips will help keep your mouth healthy and will help protect your overall health, no matter your age.
1. See a Senior Dentist Regularly
It's important to see your dentist at least twice a year. During your checkup, your dentist will examine your teeth for cavities and check your gums for signs of gum disease. The visit will also include a cleaning by a dental hygienist. The hygienist will remove tartar and plaque from your teeth, helping to reduce the risk of cavities and gum disease.
Seeing your dentist often also gives you a chance to discuss any concerns with them, such as new medical conditions that affect your oral health. If you're recently been diagnosed with diabetes, your dentist can give you tips and pointers to limit damage to your gums and help keep your diabetes under control. If you have arthritis, your dentist can help you choose a toothbrush that's easier to grip.
2. Brush and Floss at Home
Along with seeing your dentist regularly, it's important to maintain a regular oral care routine at home. That means brushing your teeth twice a day and flossing at least once daily. Use a toothpaste that has fluoride to help prevent cavities.
If you have reduced strength in your hands or trouble gripping things because of arthritis, there are special toothbrush holders or handles designed to make brushing easier. The same is true for flossing. Single-use floss picks might be easier to manipulate than floss string if you have arthritis or reduced hand strength.
3. Pay Attention to Mouth Changes
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, older adults are more likely to be diagnosed with oral cancer than younger people. It's important to know the signs of oral cancer and what to do if you spot any. Some common early symptoms of oral cancer include numbness in the mouth and tongue, a red patch or sore area in the mouth or throat, and difficulty chewing and swallowing.
During your regular dental visits, your dentist should check your mouth for signs of cancer. But, if you notice any changes between visits, call your dentist to set up an appointment and get everything checked out.
4. Start or Maintain Healthy Habits
If you haven't already, now is a good time to take up healthy habits, such as quitting smoking, limiting alcohol consumption and cutting back on sugar. Sugary drinks and foods increase the risk of tooth decay, and put you at risk for other conditions, including diabetes. Smoking and other tobacco products increase your risk of gum disease and oral cancer. Drinking a lot of alcohol, more than one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men, also puts you at a higher risk of developing oral cancer.
Changing your habits can be challenging. Your dentist can provide guidance and tips to help.
5. Get Help for Dry Mouth
About 30% of people over the age of 65 experience dry mouth, according to the American Dental Association. The percentage climbs to 40% once people are over age 80. Dry mouth occurs when your saliva glands don't produce enough saliva. While it can be part of aging, people usually develop dry mouth because of the medications they take or due to other conditions they have. Treatments for cancer often contribute to dry mouth, as can many over-the-counter and prescription medicines.
When your mouth is dry, bacteria has more chance to grow and thrive, leading to gum problems and tooth decay. Keeping the mouth moisturized, such as by drinking plenty of water, chewing gum, and using a humidifier at night, can help to relieve the discomfort of dry mouth. You might also talk to your dentist or doctor about changing your medications if your dry mouth is severe.
Schedule Senior Dental Care Las Cruces
Dental health is important at every age. The team at Las Cruces Dental Solutions can help you protect your teeth and gums as you get older. Contact us today to schedule an appointment.