Taking care of your teeth and gums as you get older can have a good impact on overall health; oral health can prevent problems like toothaches, tooth decay, and tooth loss. A healthy mouth also makes it easier for you to continue eating well and enjoying the foods you love as you age. It’s imperative to take care of your teeth and gums if you have a health condition like diabetes or heart disease or take medicines that can cause oral health problems.
Our team at Swedish Dental has developed several steps to help you keep your teeth and gums healthy as you get older.
Oral Hygiene Tips for Seniors
Daily brushing and flossing of natural teeth are essential to keeping them in good oral health. Plaque can build up quickly on the teeth of seniors, especially if oral hygiene is neglected, and lead to tooth decay and gum disease.
Brush your teeth with fluoride toothpaste twice a day
Brushing and flossing help remove dental plaque, a sticky film of bacteria that builds on your teeth after eating; this build-up on your teeth can cause tooth decay or gum disease. After brushing, it is essential to remember to floss between your teeth; flossing allows tiny bits of plaque to be removed from between your teeth. If you have trouble flossing, ask your dentist about using a special brush or pick instead.
Look out for changes in your mouth
Your risk of getting oral cancer increases as you get older, so consult your dentist if you notice any changes or have any significant pain or if you experience any of these symptoms for more than two weeks:
- A spot in your mouth, lip, or throat that feels uncomfortable or sore
- A lump or thick area in your mouth, lip, or throat
- A white or red patch in your mouth
- Difficulty chewing, swallowing or moving your jaw or tongue
- Numbness in your tongue or mouth
- Swelling in your jaw
- Pain in one ear without hearing loss
- See your dentist regularly for a checkup and cleaning.
There’s no single rule for how often people need to see the dentist – it varies from person to person. So the next time you get a checkup and cleaning, ask your dentist how often you need to come in.
Talk to your doctor about dry mouth
Dry mouth means not having enough saliva to keep your mouth wet. Dry mouth can make it hard to eat, swallow, or talk; it can also lead to tooth decay or infection. In addition, dry mouth is a side effect of some medicines. It can also happen if you have specific health problems – like diabetes or receiving chemotherapy or radiation. If you have a dry mouth, talk with your doctor or dentist and ask what you can do.
Practice healthy habits
Eat healthily and cut down on sugary foods and drinks. This can help prevent tooth decay – and it’s good for your overall health.
Don’t smoke or use other tobacco products. Smoking cigarettes, chewing tobacco, or using snuff puts you at higher risk for oral cancer. Smoking also increases your risk for gum disease. If you drink alcohol, drink only in moderation. This means no more than one drink a day for women or two drinks a day for men. Heavy drinking increases your risk of oral cancer.
What Seniors Can Expect During a Dental Exam
If you’re a senior headed for a checkup, your dentist should conduct a thorough history and dental exam. Questions asked during a dental history should include:
- The approximate date of your last dental visit and the reason for the visit
- Recent changes in your mouth
- Any loose or sensitive teeth
- Difficulty tasting, chewing or swallowing
- Any pain, discomfort, sores, or bleeding in your mouth
- Lumps, bumps, or swellings in your mouth
Your dentist will check the following during an oral exam: your face and neck (for skin discoloration, moles, sores).
- Bite (for any problems in how the teeth come together while opening and closing your mouth).
- Jaw (for signs of clicking and popping in the temporomandibular joint); your lymph nodes and salivary glands (for any indication of swelling or lumps)
- Inner cheeks (for infections, ulcers, traumatic injuries)
- Tongue and other interior surfaces – floor of the mouth, soft and hard palate, gum tissue (for signs of disease or oral cancer)
- Teeth (for decay, condition of fillings, and cracks)
If you wear dentures or other appliances, your dentist will ask a few questions about when you wear your dentures and when you take them out (if removable). They will also look for any irritation or problems in the areas in the mouth that the appliance touches and examine the denture or appliance itself (looking for any worn or broken areas).
Food and drinks that contain a high level of sugar can damage the teeth and cause poor dental health. However, many older people cannot taste foods, and they used to, and sometimes develop a taste for sweet foods. You can help minimize the damage that sugars can cause by requesting sugar-free medication and, where possible, using sweeteners instead of sugar. In addition, encouraging your loved one to chew sugar-free gum can be helpful because it creates an increased flow of saliva. This helps to cleanse the mouth and repair the teeth.
If your loved one has a dry mouth, ensure that they drink plenty of clear fluids and avoid smoking, caffeine, and alcohol that can all make symptoms worse. Get in touch with Swedish Dental if you’re concerned about your or a loved one’s oral health.