Dental health is often overlooked but is extremely important, especially for older adults. It’s estimated that 93% of seniors aged 65 and older have had tooth decay or cavities, and 18% have untreated decay. One major consequence of poor dental health which is very common among older adults is gum disease. The more serious form of gum disease, periodontitis, can potentially damage the soft tissue that holds the teeth as well as underlying bone structures. This may sound scary, but the good news is that gum disease is easily preventable.
There are several potential risk factors that can lead to dental health complications. One factor has to do with the buildup of plaque, which is a bacteria that forms on the surface of teeth as well as in between them. Plaque can eventually harden to become tartar, which causes the surface of the teeth to become rough, which causes even more plaque buildup. Over time, this can lead to cavities, tooth decay, and other problems.
Another major factor for dental health issues which is especially common among older adults is dry mouth. This is a common side effect of many medications that are commonly prescribed later in life. Dry mouth can lead to a lack of saliva, which helps to kill bacteria, wash away plaque, and rebuild enamel, which protects teeth from plaque and acids. It’s important for older adults to avoid dry mouth if possible, and make sure they follow these tips to make sure their teeth stay healthy and protected.
Ensure you brush your teeth at least twice a day and floss at least once a day. Brushing and flossing is an essential part of dental hygiene, as it removes plaque that builds on and between the teeth. It’s important to use a toothbrush with soft bristles that don’t agitate the gums. Some older adults with mobility issues or arthritis may find it difficult to brush properly. If you have these problems, making the toothbrush handle thicker may make it easier to grip, and using an electric toothbrush can make brushing easier.
Visiting the dentist regularly is an important part of maintaining proper dental health. In addition to cleaning teeth and looking for things like cavities and tooth decay, dentists also look for more serious issues. They can detect things like gum disease or oral cancers before they start causing pain while they’re still in the early, treatable stages. Older adults should ensure they make a dentist appointment every 6 months.
It’s no secret that smoking is bad for your teeth. In addition to turning your teeth yellow and brown, smoking also increases the buildup of plaque and tartar. Additionally, it causes the gum line to recede, and this exposes the roots of the teeth which don’t have any enamel to protect them from decay. Tobacco is also a major risk factor for oral cancers, which usually present as lumps or sores in and around the mouth, tongue, and lips.
Dry mouth and a lack of saliva is a common cause of gum disease among older adults. In order to keep the mouth hydrated, there are several actions that can be taken. The first is to determine whether any medication being taken is causing dry mouth, and to ask your doctor whether there are alternatives that can be looked into. Drinking plenty of water is also important. You can also chew sugar-free gum to stimulate the salivary glands. Gum with the artificial sweetener xylitol is the best, as it provides dental health benefits and protection from cavities.
Fluoride is a mineral that helps keep teeth healthy. It’s important to ensure your teeth are exposed to fluoride on a regular basis to keep them protected from tooth decay. Most toothpastes contain fluoride, which is another reason to brush your teeth with toothpaste on a regular basis. Many city water supplies also contain fluoride, so drinking tap water is another good way to get some. Fluoride levels in bottled water are usually much lower than levels found in tap water.
While dental health risks can lead to serious consequences, they can be prevented with just a few simple steps. Keeping your teeth clean and free of plaque helps prevent gum disease, and can be done by simply brushing and flossing daily. Regular dentist visits ensure you don’t develop any serious oral diseases. Avoiding tobacco, keeping your mouth hydrated, and getting enough fluoride also help to protect teeth and keep them clean. Gum disease has been linked to serious health risks like heart disease and diabetes, so you should ensure you don’t neglect your oral health.
Katie is a member of Welbi’s Customer Experience team! She has a background in communications and recreation and is passionate about older adults, exercise, coffee and people.
Holly is a member of Welbi’s Marketing team! She has a background in communications and marketing, and is a compassionate individual who loves team work, story telling, and wellness.
Wendy is a student in the Honours BA in English program at the University of Ottawa, where she has won numerous awards for her writing.
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