For Seniors: Don’t Brush Off Dental Care

Older adults may have dental concerns that can’t be totally taken care of with just brushing and flossing.

Your dentist may have talked with you about the dental health issues that arise later in life, such as dentures or dry mouth. You can keep your teeth and gums in fine shape by continuing good dental care, no matter what concerns you have, the American Dental Association (ADA) says.

Dentures

Dentures may make your mouth less sensitive to hot foods and liquids. They also may make it more difficult to notice bones or other harmful objects in your food.

Dentures need special treatment to keep them clean and free from food that can cause stains, bad breath or swollen gums. Have your dentist show you how to clean them and wear them properly. Take care of your dentures as you would your natural teeth, by brushing them and visiting your dentist regularly, the ADA says. When you go to sleep, remove your dentures and put them in water or a denture-cleaning liquid.

Partial dentures should be cared for in the same way. Because bacteria can collect under the clasps or clips that keep partial dentures secure, be sure to give that area special attention.

Dry mouth

This condition occurs when the salivary glands do not make enough saliva. You may have difficulty swallowing, tasting or even speaking. Dry mouth is not a normal part of aging. Medications for depression and high blood pressure often cause dry mouth, as can diabetes, Sjogren's disease or Parkinson’s disease.

See your dentist if you are experiencing dry mouth. Without enough saliva to rinse away food particles from your teeth, you can develop tooth decay, the ADA says. Your dentist can prescribe a medication to help your salivary glands work properly. You can improve the condition by drinking plenty of water and reducing your intake of alcohol, caffeine and tobacco, which can dry out your mouth. Your dentist or health care provider also might suggest using artificial saliva, which is available at most drugstores. Some people find sucking on hard candy useful.

Gum disease

Gum disease affects both the gums and the bones that hold your teeth in place. When plaque stays on your teeth for an extended period, it forms a hard covering called tartar that won't come off with brushing, the National Institute on Aging says. Tartar can lead to gum disease.

The key to preventing gum disease is to brush and floss regularly, which prevents plaque from sticking to your teeth. If plaque is allowed to linger, you could develop gingivitis, which causes your gums to become red and swollen and to bleed. Left untreated, gingivitis can develop into periodontitis, a gum disease that can wear away the gums and the bones that support your teeth, the ADA says. Food stuck between the teeth, smoking, smokeless tobacco, ill-fitting bridges and partial dentures can make gum disease worse.

Keep your old habits

The problems your dentist warned you about as a child should still concern you. Cavities and gum disease are things to watch for throughout your life. To protect against these lifelong concerns -- and the new complications that may develop with age -- keep up these good dental habits:

  • Brush and floss daily.

  • Visit your dentist regularly.

  • Eat a balanced diet.

  • Avoid tobacco.


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