While age is not the sole factor that determines oral health, it definitely plays a large role. As a senior, there are many things that can influence oral health. Some medications, for example, can work against it, and some diseases or conditions like arthritis can make brushing difficult. Still, wether you have your natural teeth or dentures, it’s important to take daily care of your teeth. Today we’ll talk about some tips to help you keep your teeth clean in your senior years. So let’s get started:
Why Are Seniors at Risk of Oral Health Problems?
Before we talk about some tips for brushing your teeth, why don’t we first start by discussing the importance of good oral care. As we mentioned above, seniors are at heightened risk of oral health problems. These include, but are not limited to:
- Change of tooth color: (yellow or darkened) due to a lifetime of eating stain-causing foods, or from changes dentin (the tissue under the enamel)
- Dry mouth: (or lack of saliva flow) often caused by common senior illnesses and medications.
- Loss of taste due to medications, diseases, and even dentures.
- Root decay due to a lifetime of exposure to acids.
- Gum disease caused by plaque buildup.
- Tooth loss from gum disease.
- Stomatitis, or inflammation under the dentures, caused by poorly fitted dentures, fungus buildup, and poor oral health.
- Thrust caused by common senior illnesses, diseases, and medications.
That’s the bad news, but here’s the good news – most of these conditions can be avoided with good oral hygiene! In other words, if you take good care of your teeth, you probably don’t have to worry about things like gum disease, tooth loss, and root decay.
What Does Good Oral Hygiene Look Like?
If you have your natural teeth, good oral hygiene looks the same as it did 20 years ago. In other words , children, younger adults, and seniors can all benefit from the same dental practices. These include:
- Daily brushing (2-3 times per day) with a fluoride toothpaste.
- Daily flossing, being sure to floss between the gums as well as the teeth.
- Regular brushing after eating sugary or starchy foods.
- Maintaining a good diet with the least amount of sugar as possible.
- Drinking water and avoiding sugar filled drinks.
- Visiting the dentist regularly (every 6 months) for checkups and cleanings.
Note: If you have difficulty brushing your teeth due to dexterity problems or pain caused by conditions like arthritis, try using an electric toothbrush.
But What if You Have Dentures?
Just as our teeth require daily care, so do our dentures. Here are some denture cleaning tips:
- Remove your dentures after every meal and rinse with water to remove food particles.
- Handle your dentures with care. They are easily damaged.
- Brush your mouth upon denture removal. Using a soft bristled toothbrush, brush your gums, cheeks, tongue, and roof of your mouth.
- Brush your dentures at least once a day (after removal).
- Use a denture soaking solution to soak your dentures overnight. This will help to keep them moist and maintain their shape.
- Rinse your dentures before putting them back into your mouth.
And remember, just because you have dentures doesn’t mean you don’t have to visit the dentist regularly. Regular visits to the dentist can help to ensure that you have good overall oral health, and can also help to ensure that your dentures are properly fitted and not causing any discomfort or infections.
Tips for Caregivers:
A lot of seniors have difficulty maintaining oral health on their own. Sometimes this could be due to diseases like alzheimers, and other times it could be due to extreme cases of arthritis. Whatever the case, here are some tips if you are a caregiver of a senior who needs help brushing their teeth:
- Whenever possible, always encourage seniors to participate in their own oral health care.
- Avoid cross contamination by wearing gloves while brushing.
- Brush all parts of the mouth, including the teeth, the roof of the mouth, the sides of the mouth, the tongue, and the gums.
- Don’t forget to remove dentures before brushing them.
- Always check with the senior to make sure you are not pressing too hard or causing pain.
- Replace toothbrushes every 2-3 months or once they become frayed.
And don’t forget to schedule regular dentist visits!