Dental care for seniors is an important part of maintaining health. In recent years, older adults have been keeping their natural teeth later in life, due to an increased understanding of dental well-being. Because of this, it’s important for the elderly and their caregivers to be aware of proper dental habits.
Over time and with age, changes need to be made to the way we care for our teeth. For the elderly, it’s never too late to take oral health seriously.
Oral Health Problems in the Elderly
There is a direct link between the health of a senior’s teeth and their overall health, and there are many common health risks for the elderly relating to their teeth and gums. Being over the age of 55 puts you at risk for:
- Dry mouth
Dry mouth is a condition caused by numerous factors. Most often, it’s a side-effect of medications for hypertension, heart problems, and diabetes. It occurs when there is a lack of saliva in the mouth, making it hard to chew and swallow, and in more serious cases, making speaking a challenge for seniors. If left untreated, dry mouth can lead to tooth decay and gum disease.
- Root Decay
Seniors are most likely to experience tooth decay around the root. This is due to cavities appearing more frequently at the gum line than at the edge of fillings. If a senior has some or all of their natural teeth, they are at risk of tooth decay. This affliction is also more common in those with diabetes, or who have a diet high in sugar.
- Periodontal (Gum) Disease
This is one of the most common diseases in seniors. It’s caused by a buildup of plaque, which leads to inflammation, bleeding, pain, difficulty chewing, and eventually complete loss of the affected teeth. There are new studies being released that find a possible link between diabetes and gum disease; this means that periodontal complications may actually worsen diabetes symptoms.
Dental Care for Seniors at Home
Maintaining oral health is generally simple, but cleaning should be performed regularly to prevent tooth decay and other complications. It’s essential for older adults to:
- Brush natural teeth at least twice a day with a soft toothbrush, and toothpaste containing fluoride. Brush gently in circular motions, and make sure to also reach the gums and tongue. Tooth sensitivity may become an issue with age; in this case, consider using a sensitive toothpaste;
- Floss at least once a day to remove food debris from teeth. Maintain a regular flossing and brushing schedule. If a regular floss is too difficult to use, there are many single-use, one-handed flossing kits available;
- Use mouthwash with fluoride to help decrease the likelihood of plaque buildup, preventing cavities and tooth decay;
- Replace their toothbrush every three or four months, depending on the state of the bristles;
- Limit intake of high-sugar foods and drinks, which can cause cavities;
- Increase calcium intake. This mineral contributes to maintaining strong teeth and gums, and can be found in many food sources, including dairy products, salmon, brown rice, green peas, and more;
- Drink lots of water throughout the day in order to relieve dry mouth, and if the condition is serious, consult with a physician about medication. It’s not uncommon for dry mouth to be caused by certain prescription drugs;
- Increase visits to the dentist for basic oral exams. This will help ensure that any dental health problems will be spotted early on, and treatment options can be explored.
Overall, brushing and flossing regularly is sufficient for most people. However, advanced age often complicates things, meaning that brushing and flossing aren’t enough to keep oral health in check. On top of this, if dentures are involved, there are additional steps to be taken when it comes to dental care for seniors.
Caring for Dentures
Dentures, just like natural teeth, need to be cleaned regularly to prevent buildup of food and plaque. If you or a family member wears dentures, be sure to:
- Brush them thoroughly, at least twice per day, but don’t use toothpaste (use a denture cleanser instead). Also, since dentures can be fragile, place a towel inside the sink or fill it with water before brushing. This will prevent them from breaking if they fall;
- Take them out overnight and soak them in water or a dental cleaning solution. This will give your mouth and jaw the proper time to rest, and prevent false teeth from drying;
- Never use bleach, soap, or any other harsh cleansers as these can damage or discolour dentures;
- Consider using a commercial cleaner, such as an ultrasonic denture cleaner;
- Never ingest denture cleansers, as these can be toxic. These substances should not be swallowed;
- A set of dentures should last an average of five to eight years, but this depends on how well they are treated. Take proper care of your dentures, and they can last a long time!
An increasingly popular alternative to dentures are dental implants. They provide a more natural look and feel to a senior’s teeth, and unlike other procedures, do not destroy other teeth or cause bone loss; this is because dental implants replace the root of the tooth entirely. They can improve chewing ability, as well as make speaking easier. They also do not need to be replaced, unlike temporary solutions like dentures. It may be worth considering implants as a possibility for your elderly loved one.
Many seniors have a hard time brushing and flossing their own teeth due. This is often due to the challenge of holding and using a toothbrush. When physical difficulties are at play, it’s best to have an at-home caregiver help with daily hygienic activities. If you’re looking for home care assistance in Montreal, please don’t hesitate to contact Complete care Coordination today for a free consultation with a nurse. Our experienced, professional caregivers can help with physical and dental care for seniors.