Aging is not the major reason that older adults lose teeth; it is tooth decay…namely gum disease. Maintaining good dental habits and regimens is key to keeping your teeth, gums and smile intact.
Seniors naturally have a higher risk of developing oral disease because the mouth changes. Beyond a decreased sense of taste, the nerves in teeth decrease in size so cavities and other problems are not noticed as readily. Tooth decay often develops around old fillings. As gums recede, the root of the mouth is also more exposed. Oral cancer risks multiply after age 40. Additionally, certain medications can cause dry mouth, and increase likelihood of disease. Poor oral health has even been linked to developing heart disease, diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease.
Caregivers and children of aging parents may need to be more proactive when it comes to the oral health of the seniors in their lives.
By following these tips, seniors can help minimize the risks of dental problems:
- See the dentist regularly. An annual or semi-annual visit is recommended to ensure the mouth is healthy. Some frail seniors cannot always tell you that they are in pain.
- Brush at least twice daily (especially after meals), to remove bacteria buildup that can lead to tooth decay. Brushing for 2-3 minutes with a soft-bristled brush and fluoride toothpaste is ideal; the tongue should also be brushed to remove bacteria. Clean dentures frequently if wearing dentures.
- Floss daily to remove plaque from between teeth and below the gum line. Flossing before bed is the best time.
- Eat food with high levels of antioxidants, which can help protect the body from inflammation and bacteria. Some “superfoods” for promoting a healthy mouth include fresh cranberries (which are known to fight plaque), cheese (rich in calcium, it combines with plaque and sticks to the teeth to protect it from decay-causing acids), calcium-fortified juices, milk and other foods (that promote strong bones and teeth) and crisp fruits such as carrots and apples (that clean plaque off of teeth).
- Don’t smoke. Smokers are twice as likely to lose their teeth as non-smokers, and to require a root canal procedure. Studies have proven that teeth are less likely to be lost after a person quits smoking.
- Avoid coffee or soda, and drink tap water, which typically contains tooth decay-preventing fluoride.
- If your senior is in a residence that offers mouth care services, make sure that these services are properly and regularly administered.
The caregivers at Homecare Assistance of Fort Worth can help seniors keep smiling by ensuring that their mouth care needs are met, from scheduling dental visits to selecting the right foods that minimize tooth decay.